Boating & Booze: A Dangerous Mix Better Avoided

Picture this: You’re spending a day out on the water, the sun is beating down on you and as the temperatures soar, an ice-cold beer or a mixed drink might seem tempting.

While this may sound like a great way to spend a weekend, it carries with it a considerable risk. Statistics show around 40 per cent of deaths and 65 per cent of all boating-related accidents occur under the influence of alcohol. Given that there are around 6,000 accidents that happen on the water per year, 3,900 of these involving some form of booze is not insignificant.

What may shock a seasoned drinker, but maybe not a seasoned boater, is that a beer on land is not equivalent to a beer on the water. If a boater is out on the water for an extended period, a combination of the hot sun, wind, vibration and the motion of the boat can cause what’s known as boater fatigue. Boater fatigue can quadruple the effects of alcohol, turning that one beer into four. Compounding with this is the potential for dehydration, which can increase the rate that alcohol is absorbed by the body.

Especially in Atlantic Canada, where local waters rarely get above 15 degrees Celsius, a totally sober swimmer has around 10 minutes until they lose dexterity and around an hour until they’re exhausted. Alcohol, contrary to the folklore surrounding it, reduces the body’s resistance to the cold, which can accelerate the onset of loss of dexterity, exhaustion and hypothermia. On average 50 per cent of boating-related deaths occur in water under 10 degrees, and a further 45 per cent occur in water under 20 degrees.

All these factors, mixed with a drink or two, are the perfect cocktail for an accident.

Beyond the risk factors associated with drinking, Canadian law doesn’t differentiate between drunk boating and drunk driving. Any blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08 per cent could turn a fun day out on the water into a run-in with the law. On first offence, anyone boating under the influence could face, at minimum, an $1,000 fee. By the second time, what started as a couple drinks at the lake could turn into a minimum of 30 days imprisonment.

The good news is that boaters can enjoy a drink aboard their boat if they meet the legal requirements. If a boat has permanent cooking facilities, permanent sleeping areas, a permanent toilet and the boat is not in motion, those aboard can imbibe to their heart’s content as long as they don’t plan on going anywhere.

Around three-quarters of Canadians consume alcohol to some degree, and enjoying whatever your preferred libation might be is perfectly safe if enjoyed responsibly. Drinking and boating, however, is not a responsible way to enjoy a beverage. So, whatever your preferred mix is, be that rum and coke, vodka sodas or gin and tonics, don’t mix them with boating.

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