The days are longer. The sun is shining. The water is calling your name.
The perfect cocktail of summer fun is cumulating, but a dangerous ingredient could ruin those plans.
Fluids escape your body as you sweat under the hot sun, and hydration levels begin to drop. Adding alcohol to the mix only increases dehydration. And all it takes is drinking alcohol within 24 hours of working in the heat to increase the risk of heat-related illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which accounts for the extra trips to the toilet when you consume alcohol. This also means it promotes dehydration and interferes with the body's ability to regulate its own temperature, Lake Granbury Lake Ranger Kyle Lewis said.
“The heat seems to make the effects of the alcohol go quicker,” Lewis said. “You’re becoming dehydrated from the alcohol at the same time you’re getting dehydrated from the heat. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
High temperatures alone kill hundreds of people a year, according to the CDC. Adding alcohol to the equation only makes the numbers unnecessarily higher.
There are so many fun memories and traditions to create and build with family and friends along the Brazos River or at a Brazos River Authority reservoirs. Texans are flocking to the waterways to enjoy swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing or time on the boats. And the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” is one not to forget. Because if time is flying and you’re not taking precautions, dangers sneak up on you.
It’s important under high temperatures to stay on top of drinking water and staying hydrated, and not keeping track of just how many brews you’ve downed. Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance, and coordination and increases the likelihood of accidents. U.S. Coast Guard data shows that in boating deaths involving alcohol use, over half the victims capsized their boats and/or fell overboard.
“Alcohol is even more hazardous on the water than on land. The marine environment motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray accelerates a drinker's impairment. These stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator's coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster when using alcohol,” according to the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division. “Alcohol can also be more dangerous to boaters because boat operators are often less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway. Recreational boaters don't have the benefit of experiencing daily boat operation. In fact, boaters average only 110 hours on the water per year.”
Operating a vehicle on the water is already more dangers than doing so on land, Lewis said.
On the road, there’s stop signs, yield signs, and speed limits, among other things, Lewis said. None of that exists on the water. Yes, there are hazard buys, but it’s not to the amount that’s seen on land, Lewis said.
“People also drive in a straight line down the road,” Lewis said. “That’s not how it works on water. People are driving in every direction. You add alcohol to that mix, reducing your ability to focus, you complicate the situation.”
When Lake Rangers and Game Wardens stop a watercraft on the reservoir, often a key indicator to a boaters’ intoxication level is asking them to identify required supplies on the boat for water safety, said Lake Granbury Lake Ranger Randy Johnston.
“They have to get up and go around the boat and look for a fire extinguisher or a floatation device, you can begin to tell if they are intoxicated,” Johnston said. “You can have them put on a life jacket to get in your boat for further testing, and most life jackets have three or four buckles, if they are intoxicated, they will never get those buckles right.”
A person operating a boat with an alcohol level of 0.08 or greater is considered legally intoxicated just like someone driving a car. And just like driving drunk, boaters can face fine and penalties by law enforcement for operating a boat while intoxicated – including having their driver’s license suspended.
Lake Limestone Lake Ranger Karen Downey said if they determine someone is impaired or suspect intoxication, they perform a series of non-standardized field sobriety tests in the boat, including what’s called a hand pat test, finger-count test, alphabet test, and counting as well as a test related to the involuntary jerking of the eyes.
If someone fails those tests, they are transported to the shore. Once there, a 15 minute waiting period must elapse to allow the person to regain their equilibrium or land legs before standardized field sobriety tests are administered, Downey said.
According to the Texas Boater Education Course, penalties for boating while intoxicated include:
- First conviction carries a fine of up to $2,000 and/or jail time of up to 180 days.
- Second conviction carries a fine of up to $4,000 and/or jail time of up to one year.
- Third conviction carries a fine of up to $10,000 and/or jail time of 2–10 years.
Of course, the penalties pale in comparison to the tragic loss of life in an alcohol-related boating accident.
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