boating under the influence

Boating Under the Influence: Designating a Sober Skipper

Written by Diane Byrne
June 22, 2022

Last Updated on June 22, 2022 by Boatsetter Team

True or false: Boaters average about the same hours on the water as drivers on land. If you answered false, you’re correct.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, most boaters only spend about 110 hours annually at the helm. After all, we typically don’t drive to work by boat. A higher number of less-experienced helm operators adds to why boating under the influence (BUI) carries stiff penalties at every state and federal level. It’s also why it’s so deadly.

The Coast Guard says alcohol is involved in about one-third of all recreational boating fatalities across the country. More disturbingly, it’s the number-one known contributing factor in recreational boating deaths. Wave motion, the sun, wind, spray, vibration, and engine noise all accelerate fatigue, even when sober. Add alcohol to the mix, and your judgment, coordination, and reaction time suffer further, drink for drink, compared to an automobile driver.

Weve rounded the following tips to make sure youre boating safely:

  1. Designate a driver
  2. Support sober initiatives
  3. Have non-alcoholic beverages available
  4. Wear cool clothing
  5. Commit (no matter what watercraft you use)
  6. Start the drinking post-cruising

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designate a sober skipper

1. Designate a driver

This is incredibly easy if you rent a boat through since you can have a Coast Guard-certified captain. You can also take SeaTow’s Sober Skipper pledge. It’s a simple, online commitment to boat responsibly, including not boating while drinking. Upon filling it out, you’ll receive a yellow Sober Skipper wristband from wearing proudly out on the water.

2. Support sober initiatives

Check if your area is participating in Operation Dry Water. This is a nationwide, year-round boating under the influence awareness and enforcement campaign. Operation Dry Water kicks into high gear during the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Not surprisingly, that’s one of the most popular times for boaters of all experience levels to take to the water.

3. Sip sodas or other non-alcoholic beverages onboard

It’s better to have water, iced tea, or even non-alcoholic beer for your guests. Why? Impaired passengers can fall overboard more easily. Worse, they can drown since they may have difficulty distinguishing up from down due to inner-ear disturbances.

4. Wear cool clothing

We don’t just mean looking fabulous; we mean beating the heat. Again, the sun accelerates fatigue, so avoid making its job any easier.

5. Commit (no matter what watercraft you use)

If you think the risk only exists for motorized craft, think again. In fact, some states’ boating under the influence laws applies even to rowboats and sailing dinghies.

6. Postpone the adult beverages for post-cruising

We want you to enjoy many more years on the water. Toast to a great day of boating when you’re back on dry land. And make sure you stay sober when it’s time to head home, too.


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While we all want to have fun on the water, boating under the influence isn’t worth it the risk or the penalty. At best, you’re facing a stiff fine and jail time—yes both—in multiple states. For instance, a first-time conviction in Florida carries a fine between $500 and $1,000 plus up to six months in jail. And that’s only if no property damage or bodily injury occurs.

Staying sober, or designating a sober skipper, is the only way to completely ensure that you and your loved ones, along with other boaters sharing our waterways, are safe and secure.

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