One of the hottest questions among recreational boaters is as follows – how does the effect of alcohol while boating compare to its effect while on land?

Well, the effects are actually significantly worse because of waves, heat, wind, noise, and vibration.

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With that, drinking on board is a really bad idea, even if you limit yourself to just one drink.

This isn’t the end of the story – there are some other important things to know as well. Read on to find out everything you need to know about boating and drinking!

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Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Frequently Asked Questions

The Negative Effects of Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol has many side effects on the human body, including but not limited to:

Behavioral changes.Slurred speech.Fatigue.Blackouts.Changes in coordination.

There are some possible long-term negative effects as well, including lung infections, cancer, liver damage, and heart damage.

Alcohol cocktails

Decision-making is altered under the influence too – one study showed that under the influence, people have an impaired ability to weigh risks and gains when gambling.

Alcohol is also notorious for its effects on drivers. Even in very small concentrations, alcohol can significantly impair one’s driving ability.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measures the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream of an individual. In the United States, driving with a BAC of 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) is illegal for drivers over 21. An exception is Utah where the limit was lowered to just 0.05 in 2018.

You have to take a few drinks to reach 0.08 BAC, but the negative effects of alcohol are visible at much lower concentrations.

According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, here are some of the effects of alcohol on drivers at different concentrations.

BACTypical effectsPredictable effects on driving
0.02Some loss of judgment, relaxation, altered moodImpaired ability of tracking moving targets, declined multi-tasking
0.05Impaired judgment, lowered alertness, worse small-muscle control, difficulties with focusing eyesDifficulty steering, slower response to emergency situations, reduced coordination and ability to track moving objects
0.08Poor speech, balance, hearing, and reaction timeShort-term memory loss, reduced ability to detect signals, impaired perception
0.10Strong deterioration of reaction time, slurred speech, slowed thinking, poor coordinationReduced ability to maintain lanes and brake
0.15Major loss of balance, vomiting, weak muscle controlSubstantial impairment in vehicle control

Alcohol is Actually Way Worse on Water than on Land

What do the effects of alcohol on driving have to do with boating? Well, you are going to experience more or less the same effects on your ability to operate a boat. The chart above should give you a clear idea of what to expect when operating a boat under the influence.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Furthermore, boating under the influence is actually FAR WORSE than driving under the influence (DUI). This doesn’t make DUI in any way better or preferable – it’s just the way things are.

There are several factors that make BUI (boating under the influence) very dangerous:

Water.Motion caused by waves.Vibration.The sun.Wind.Water spray.

These are things that you will not encounter in a typical driving scenario.

If you’ve ever driven under the influence (we hope that you’ve not), then you know how difficult it can become to make decisions and navigate safely. What would happen if you also add rolling, sun, wind, and water to the equation?

These factors are disorienting even when you are sober. When under the influence, effects like these will compound with the effects that alcohol has by itself.

Man drinking alcohol

How Does Alcohol Use Affect Boat Operators or Passengers?

As it pertains to boating, the United States Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division brings the following effects of alcohol on boaters:

Inner ear disturbances may prevent people in the water from distinguishing up from down, leading to drowning.The sense of warmth may prevent an individual in cold water from getting out before the onset of hypothermia.Deterioration of judgment and cognitive abilities.Impaired coordination, balance, and reaction time.Reduced depth perception, poor night vision, poor focus, and decreased ability to distinguish between colors (especially green and red). The latter can significantly impair an individual’s ability to recognize navigational aids on the water.

The Boating Safety Division also notes that an individual with BAC above 0.10 is 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than an individual with 0 BAC.

Boating & Drinking Alcohol Statistics

Our post would be incomplete without some boating & alcohol statistics. All the data you’ll see below were taken from the USGC 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics. There are plenty of interesting – and tragic – stats in this report.

Here are the most remarkable points from the report.

Drinking and boating effect. (via Twenty20)
Alcohol is the leading contributing factor to fatal incidents where the primary cause was known. Alcohol was listed as the leading factor of 23% of deaths.Alcohol is in fifth place among primary contributing factors of accidents after operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, and excessive speed.Alcohol is in fifth place among primary contributing factors of injury after improper lookout, excessive speed, operator inattention, and operator inexperience.

Here, some people may wonder – how is it possible that alcohol is the leading contributing factor for deaths but is only in the fifth place among primary contributing factors for injuries and accidents?

Well, that’s because a lot of accidents involving alcohol ended in deaths rather than injury. In contrast, with other factors such as excessive speed, inattention, or inexperience, many accidents ended in injury rather than death.

We point this out because some readers may assume that alcohol bears a low risk of injury and accidents despite the high fatality rate. This is a logical fallacy because if fewer people had died, we probably would have had many more cases of injury and non-fatal accidents.

How Much Do You Have to Drink to Become Impaired?

The United States Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division has a neat chart displaying the average relationship between BAC and the number of consumed drinks. It turns out that you only need to have one drink to reach BAC of 0.02.

Needless to say, how quickly you will get drunk depends on what you are drinking. But on average, one drink is enough for significant impairment.

Remember the chart from earlier where we listed the effects of different alcohol concentrations? BAC of 0.02 is enough to worsen your vision and reduce your ability to multi-task.

As the USGC Boating Safety Division points out, there are no safe amounts of alcohol in boating. Marine environments are extremely challenging, and any physical impairment is going to significantly worsen your ability to operate a boat.

Even if you are a passenger, you are not safeguarded from accidents. You may fall overboard and be unable to swim to safety or stay on the water surface.

Having an alcohol while yachting.

Boating Alcohol Laws – Is it Illegal to Boat Under the Influence?

The BAC limits for boating are the same as for driving – 0.08 g/dL is illegal in most states. Drinking on boats isn’t illegal per se as long as your BAC doesn’t reach or exceed 0.08. However, do not forget how poorly drinking and boating combine with each other.

Boating under the influence is a very bad idea no matter how much or how little you drink. Operating a boat is challenging even when the water is calm – we aren’t even talking about bad weather.

If you are caught BUI, then you may face large fines, suspension or revocation of your boating license, or jail terms. Aside from that, if individuals under 21 are caught possessing alcohol, then they will have issues with the law as well. can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: VERIFY: Can you drink alcohol while boating? (
Group of friends drinking cocktails at a boat party.

If you are planning to drink on board, then you should follow these tips to stay safe:

If you dock somewhere to have a meal and drink, then wait at least an hour per drink before operating your vessel.Wear clothes that will keep you cool.Bring along plenty of food, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks to keep the party occupied.

Frequently Asked Questions

In most states, blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08 and higher are illegal. If you are caught with such alcohol concentrations, then you will probably get at least fined.

The effects of alcohol and drugs are amplified by:

• The movement of water.• Heat and sun.• Water sprays.• Wind.• Vibration and motion.

It is not illegal to drink on boats as long as your BAC stays below 0.08. However, drunk passengers may go overboard and drown because of significantly impaired coordination. So drunk boating is a very bad idea even if you are not driving.


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