Boating Under the Influence: A Danger to Operators and Passengers

Public awareness campaigns have helped spread awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence; people may still do it, but they would be hard-pressed to claim they had no idea that it was a dangerous act. Unfortunately, people think much less of having a few drinks while at the helm of a boat. Even in waterfront communities such as ours, many are unaware of how dangerous "BUI" – boating under the influence – can be. As your Panama City boating injury law firm, we want to spread the word about the dangers of BUI, and we support prevention efforts. When BUI accidents occur, we are also committed to helping the victim recover compensation from those at fault.

Autopsies Show Alcohol in System of Three Fatal Boating Accident Victims from Niceville

Recent autopsy results shed additional light on a tragedy that claimed three lives in December. As WJHG reports, the autopsies show that two young women and a high school coach were all intoxicated when they struck a piling and were thrown into the waters of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Authorities have deemed the deaths of 18-year-old Taylor Evanoff, 21-year-old Jamilia Beltz, and 47-year-old Robert Williams accidental. Officials believe that they had been at a club before heading out on Williams' boat just before midnight on December 4, with the accident likely occurring in the early hours of December 5. Williams had been the coach for the Bay High School boys’ basketball team for 5 seasons, including the 2003 season when he led them to a spot in the state Final Four.

The Dangers of Boating Under the Influence

BUI Safety Initiatives comprise an important part of the work done by the United States Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division. At a blood alcohol concentration of .10, a boat operator is more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident that an operator who is fully sober. Passengers also experience a greater risk for both injury and death, especially if they are also drinking. Overall, alcohol plays a part in about one-third of all recreational boating deaths. Coast Guard data shows more than half of the victims of alcohol-related boating deaths either fell overboard or capsized their crafts.

Why is alcohol and boating such a dangerous combination? Alcohol impacts a person's judgment, coordination, balance, and vision, all of which can endanger both passengers and operators. Alcohol's effects are accelerated by motion, vibration, sun, and other aspects of the boating environment. Fatigue, also accelerated on the water, can further impair coordination, reduce reaction times, and impede judgment.

Additionally, certain aspects of impairment pose unique dangers to those on the water. For example, inner ear changes make it difficult for someone who falls overboard to distinguish up from down in the water and the feeling of warmth from alcohol can keep someone from exiting dangerously-cold water. Further, while drivers often drive on a daily basis, recreational boaters are typically less experienced and less confident on the water, making impairment even more risky.

Notably, the Coast Guard is charged with enforcing the federal prohibition against BUI, a law that covers all boats, from simple rowboats and canoes to the very biggest ships. Federal BUI law also extends to U.S. vessels traveling the high seas and foreign vessels using U.S. waters.

Changing Habits: Preventing BUI and Helping the Injured

All too often, when people picture a day on the water, the image includes a cooler full of beer. Few, if any of us, would add the same cooler to a day on the road. The water scene is just as dangerous as the road scene. Alcohol-related boating injuries and deaths are preventable; we encourage people to spread the word about the dangers of BUI to help prevent these tragedies.

We also believe in holding people accountable for their actions, including the decision to boat while impaired. If you were injured by a drunk boater, or if a loved one was injured or killed, we can help you recover monetary damages and send a message that BUI will not be tolerated in our community. Call our Panama City drunk boating injury lawyer to discuss your case.

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