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Editorial: Boating while under influence is both illegal and dangerous

May. 23, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Sunshine, water and cold beer.

For better or worse, alcohol is woven into the American boating and fishing experience. It is an ever-present summertime theme for country music hits such as "Pontoon" -- or the more direct "Beer On A Boat" -- but each season accidents remind us that it can be a recipe for tragedy as well.

There were about 4,500 boating accidents in the United States last year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, including 651 deaths, 3,000 injuries and $38 million in property damage. Alcohol use was a contributing factor in many of those accidents and 17 percent of the fatalities.

So, more states are working to change the boating culture, where for many years there has been a greater tolerance for alcohol.

Georgia this year becomes the 47th state to make the legal blood alcohol limit the same for boat operators as motorists -- .08 percent. West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky all follow that guideline, too.

Illinois has added a law to suspend a person's automobile driver's license if caught operating a motorboat while intoxicated, according to USA TODAY. Washington state has added marijuana use to its law on boating intoxication.

Because of the wide-open spaces of lakes and rivers and the lower speeds most boats travel, some may feel alcohol use on the water is less of a danger than on the highway. But the Coast Guard contends it is just the opposite:

The motion, vibration, engine noise, sun and wind on the water can all accelerate alcohol impairment.

A boater becomes fatigued more quickly than an automobile driver, and alcohol can add to that loss of coordination and judgment.

Most operators simply have much less experience boating than driving a car, so impairment can be a bigger factor in how an operator reacts to unexpected situations.

With the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, many families will be back on the Ohio River and area lakes. Safe boating means having all the required safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and lights on board, making sure children and adults are wearing life jackets and checking the weather.

But it also means having a responsible and sober person at the helm.

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