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Avoiding a BWI: Boating While Intoxicated

Friends enjoying drinks while on a boat ride
Texas in the spring and summer can be a wonderful time to spend an afternoon on the water, whether you love jet skiing, sailing or fishing. Before you grab that six pack, though, and head out into the lake, river or sea, you should come prepared and take precautions to make sure you and your fellow revelers stay safe.

Boating While Intoxicated Is Illegal

We’ve covered this in a previous blog, What is Boating While Intoxicated, and you should absolutely read the details if you plan to imbibe while operating a boat.

BWI is more or less the same as driving while intoxicated (DWI) from a legal standpoint. The same blood alcohol levels apply, and the penalties are similar. The main difference is that an officer or a game warden is always allowed to board your vessel to check for safety violations, such as the number of life jackets. From there, if they detect the smell of alcohol or other reasonable indicators that heavy drinking might have taken place, they can force members of the boating party to take field sobriety tests. Your rights against search and seizure are less applicable on water than they are while driving.

Please note, however, that this only applies to motorized watercraft. Rowboats and other manpowered aquatic vehicles are not susceptible to BWIs.

Unlike in a car, having an open container in a boat is perfectly legal. However, even if the captain of the vessel is stone cold sober, the passengers may still be liable to public intoxication laws. Being on the water does not make you immune to the laws of the land.

Alcohol Is Deadly

Again, though it is perfectly legal to drink while boating under the legal limit, it is important to note that alcohol has been involved in the majority of fatal boating accidents. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, having a blood alcohol concentration above .10 makes you ten times more likely to die in a boating accident.

Drinking brings specific dangers while out on the water that aren’t present on land. It affects balance, which is already compromised even more than usual while on a boat. It also lowers your body temperature, which can lead to faster onset of hypothermia if you happen to fall into cold water. Do not let the famous legend of the drunken cook who survived the frigid waters of the North Atlantic after the sinking of the Titanic fool you; you are way more likely to be fatally chilled and drowned thanks to overconsumption than to be saved by it. This is true for both the person operating the vessel and the passengers just along for the ride.

Drinking Safely on Boat Trips

It’s not impossible to bring alcohol to a boating outing, but there are some things you can do to make your trip safer. Make sure you bring along plenty of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks to pass the time. Don’t make booze the only thing available to consume, as increases the rate of intoxication.

Consider having lunch on land at a dock or other landing site. If you drink with your lunch, limit yourself and ensure ample time to both enjoy your beverage and boat safely. General recommendations are one hour per drink consumed.

Remember that being in the water is far more tiring than being on land. Do not drink until after you’ve traversed any swimming distances that you plan on having to cross. A swim a sober man can easily do may tire a drunk man out far faster – and with fatal consequences. Of those many accidents that are attributed to drinking while boating, a majority of the deaths occurred from drowning.

General Safety Tips

Adhering to normal boat maintenance and regulation are always important, and in the case of an intoxicated boater those little details can help tip the odds in favor of survival.

  • Never go out on the water without a thorough check of the weather.
  • Make sure that your boat is equipped with enough life jackets and fuel, as well as a means of communication in case of a break down.
  • Do not go out on the water without letting someone know where you are going and approximately what time you expect to be back.
  • Make sure that everyone in your party understands these safety protocols.

The Coast Guard reports that the average boater spends just 110 hours a year on the water, far less than most people spend on the road. Even experienced boaters are less likely to have regular interactions with alcohol and operating a vessel, which leads to less familiarity. Treat boating as a fun, but potentially dangerous, activity that incorporates alcohol sparingly… if at all. Doing so will make you and everyone that sails with you far safer.

Texas BWI Attorney

If you or a loved one have been charged with boating while intoxicated (BWI), contact Thiessen Law Firm today. We offer free evaluations, and offer our award-winning services to your case.

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