Drinking and Boating

Written by Peter Teuten

In 2011 statistic produced by the United States Coast Guards (USCG) annual report show that recreational boating safety was pretty lousy. There were 4,588 accidents resulting in 758 recorded deaths in the US, a 14.8% increase representing 6.2 deaths per 100,000 registered vessels. 70% of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and out of those a whopping 84% were reported as not having been wearing a life jacket. The leading contributor in fatal boating accidents was yet again alcohol, which accounted for 16% of all fatalities. Pretty sobering stuff!

Beyond the numbers, the USCG makes a couple of observations that provide telling and somewhat scary clues to the extent of the issue with alcohol consumption — first of which, a boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than a driver, drink for drink. But what is most concerning is that the use of alcohol is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities.

Alcohol’s chief impact on core human cognitive functions is sensory perception and balance, which we are all aware of. However, putting this in the context of a rolling deck and unfamiliar spatial frames of reference, the actual effects of alcohol can be multiple times as detrimental as being on terra firma. The USCG points out on its boater safety website that a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration. Scary!

Looking at the second observations, we have a math problem. If the statistics tell us that 16% of all fatalities are caused by alcohol, why does the USCG reckon that alcohol is involved in “about a third” of all fatalities? It’s all a matter of what is defined as primary cause versus a contributor. It seems that drinking is involved in twice as many deaths as its involvement as primary cause. Again, scary!

People are going to drink. Even the abolitionists conceded that one! What is pretty clear and obvious is that drinking is really only for non-crew members while chained to the boat, or for everyone on board after the passage is complete and everything is safely stowed and immobilized!

So, what are the options? The crew can appoint a designated boater, or better yet, be one yourself. I have always been a fan of statistics, but the numbers I read every year from the USCG are somewhat bothersome and needn’t be there. It makes me want to reach for a G and T, which I will only do if I am sure that I am not a danger to myself or, most importantly, to anyone else on board.

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Peter Teuten has more than 35 years experience in the insurance and risk management fields in a number of diverse operational, management and ownership roles. He is a regular speaker at industry conferences and contributes to multiple global publications.