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Boating and alcohol: Not worth the risk

A marina at sunset.

June 9, 2019—Few things beat a lazy summer day on the water. But drinking alcohol while boating can turn what should be a wonderful day with friends and family into a tragedy. By some estimates, alcohol is to blame for half of all accidents and fatalities that happen on the water.

What makes drinking while boating so risky?

Alcohol slows reaction times. It impairs vision, balance and decision-making too. And the exposure to a boat's vibrations, engine noise and motion—plus sun and spray—speed up that impairment.

This means, drink per drink, people operating boats typically feel alcohol's effects more quickly than those driving cars. Compounding that risk: Many boaters are less experienced on the water than on the road.

Intoxicated passengers are also vulnerable to falling overboard. And because alcohol disturbs the inner ear, anyone who lands in water may have trouble telling up from down.

Stay safe this summer

The bottom line: Having no alcohol on board is the prudent way to enjoy the water. Instead, bring along drinks like sparkling or flavored water, iced tea, lemonade or non-alcoholic beer.

And keep yourself—and everybody on board—safe with these precautions from the U.S. Coast Guard and the American College of Emergency Physicians:

  • Be weather-wise. Check local weather conditions before you depart. And keep checking throughout your trip, if possible.
  • Don't overdo it. Limit your trip to a manageable amount of time. It's easy to become fatigued when you're out on the water.
  • Make life jackets a priority. Everyone should wear them at all times.
  • Learn how to swim. Proper boating safety includes knowing how to stay afloat.
  • Sign up for a boating safety course. They're offered through local marinas, America's Boating Club, the American Red Cross and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
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