Don't drink and drive doesn't just apply to land.
Just like driving drunk, boaters can face fines and penalties by law enforcement for operating a boat while intoxicated – including having their land-based driver's license suspended.
The weather is hot, and Texans are flocking to the waterways for a swim, an early fishing expedition, or to enjoy some time out on the boat. Brazos River Authority's water supply reservoirs are popular locations for watercraft and building memories and traditions.
So, it's important, especially with the crowds, to abide by laws meant for everyone's protection – including yours.
On the road, there are stop signs, yield signs, and speed limits. These don't exist on the water.
Yes, there are hazard buoys and no wake areas, but not to the amount that we see on land. Why is that important? It's important because alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance, and coordination and increases the likelihood of accidents. On the water, people are driving in every direction. Adding alcohol to the mix complicates the situation.
"Alcohol is even more hazardous on the water than on land. The marine environment's motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind, and spray accelerate 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."
Not only can boating while intoxicated cause injury to both people and property, but it can also cost thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines, cause the drinker to spend time in jail and could end in injury or death.
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 fines and penalties by law enforcement for operating a boat while intoxicated – including having their driver's license suspended.
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.
What about the passengers on a boat?
The situation for passengers on a boat is different than it is for those captaining a vessel. It's also different from the laws that apply to drinking alcohol while in an automobile. On land, Texas' open container laws make it illegal to have and to drink from an open container of alcohol while in an automobile. Boat passengers can enjoy an alcohol-based drink. But it's very important to remember not to reach the point of violating public intoxication laws. In addition, every passenger that's been drinking becomes a safety risk for the captain for things such as slips, falls overboard, and other dangerous accidents – especially since seat belts are not required on watercraft.
Alcohol use continues to be the leading known contributing factor in recreational boating deaths in the United States, according to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation, like boating or swimming, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I know everyone likes to go out on the water because it's fun and you're having a good time," said Lake Granbury Sgt. John Riley. "But driving a boat drunk is kind of like driving a car drunk. The only difference is if you step out of a boat, you can die because you can drown."
And don't forget glass bottles are prohibited at BRA parks and within 200 feet of shoreline, Riley said.
Finally, please remember to stay hydrated.
It's hot out there, and hydration levels begin to drop as fluids escape your body through sweat. Adding alcohol to the mix 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.