Drinking and Boating Don’t Mix

By JAMES CUMMINS,

As the temperatures increase, so does our appetite to be on the water. I would like to discuss awareness about boating safety and decrease the number of boating accidents.

Alcohol use has long been associated with boating. Enjoying Mississippi’s many waters is a great way to relax. With the usage of alcohol, the combined effects of sun, wind, waves, and boat motion tend to sneak up on you. Boaters become less aware of potentially serious boating problems such as speed, other boaters, wakes, and threatening changes in the weather. Judgment is seriously affected. Don’t overdo your boating fun. In 3 hours of normal boating, the noise, motion, sun, wind, and glare can frequently double an individual’s reaction time.

Studies indicate that these combined conditions affect a boater’s reflexes, coordination, and overall awareness. A boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than a driver, drink for drink. A past study of boating fatalities in California, Maryland, New Jersey, and North Carolina showed that 51 percent of the fatalities had a blood alcohol content of 0.04 percent or greater. Alcohol contents of 0.1 percent were found in 31 percent of the fatalities.

Peripheral vision, color and depth perception, and ability to focus suffer. To alleviate this problem, have a designated driver. Keep alcohol consumption at a minimal or moderate level. Don’t drink and drive a boat (or automobile). Remember, as the driver, you are also responsible for the conduct of your guests. Moderation and common sense should dictate how much alcohol is consumed on your boat. The best policy is to wait until you’re anchored for the day before enjoying alcoholic beverages aboard.

In addition to drinking and boating, the wearing of life jackets is another concern. Over 80 percent of boating fatalities involve people not wearing life jackets. Tragically, they had life jackets on board but were not wearing them. Be sure that you keep the proper number of life jackets readily accessible in your boat and make certain all passengers are wearing one. Besides being a smart thing to do, it’s the law.

The fact remains that very few people wear a life jacket especially when fishing from a boat. Excuses vary, but they are all poor–“I can’t cast or paddle with it on,” “it is too restrictive,” or “it is too hot.” Considering the special tailoring available, life jackets can give the boater comfort and protection. The main reason for wearing a life jacket is clear. It is an insurance investment. You are protecting your life. But, correct fit and proper adjustment for the boater wearing it are imperative if the safety margin it offers is to be obtained. Know how to correctly wear a life jacket. To become familiar with the characteristics of your life jacket, put it on, get in the water and practice swimming. Remember, a life jacket is no substitute for good swimming ability; it is merely an aid to buoyancy.

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James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their web site is www.wildlifemiss.org.