While you might think that fun on the lake and some cold beers sounds like a good idea to beat the heat, the fact is many people are unaware that laws about operating a boat while under the influence are taken just as seriously as those concerning a motor vehicle.
A good example of just how seriously law enforcement takes the issue came earlier this month when the real life Erin Brockovich was arrested for operating a boat under the influence of alcohol. The arrest happened on a lake in Nevada while Brockovich was trying to park her boat at the dock.
The environmental activist, who was made famous when Julia Roberts portrayed her in an Academy Award winning film, was spotted by a warden on Lake Mead driving erratically. The warden arrived and watched as Brockovich struggled to park the boat properly and noticed other signs of an intoxicated boater.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife says that the officer then conducted an investigation and ultimately arrested Brockovich for OUI (operating under the influence). Her BAC at the time was 0.15, almost twice the legal limit.
In a statement released after her arrest, Brockovich denied operating the boat on open waters and said that she did not believe she posed a safety risk to others. However, she did agree that her actions were unwise and a serious mistake. Brockovich blamed her trouble on a day spent in the hot sun with little to eat. She said her intoxication snuck up on her faster than she realized due to those factors.
Sadly, incidents involving drunk boating are not nearly as rare as many people might suspect. The U.S. Coast Guard revealed that in 2011 there was an increase in the number of recreational boating deaths. Out of the 4,500 or so boating accidents in 2011, 758 people died. This number represents a 13 percent increase over the 2010 figures.
Summer is, unsurprisingly, the busiest time for drunk boating. Authorities say they are on special alert between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the number of people out on lakes jumps dramatically. July is officially the deadliest month of the year, likely due to the huge number of incidents surrounding the July 4th weekend. July alone accounted for 142 of the 758 deaths seen last year.
According to experts, the main reason that drunk boating turns deadly is because of operator inexperience and distraction from other occupants of the boat. The Coast Guard says that 125 deaths on the water last year were directly linked to alcohol, a number that authorities across the country and here in Minnesota intend to work hard to bring down. Understand that though being out on the water may not seem as dangerous as being in a car, authorities in Minnesota view the crimes as equally important and the consequences for a boating while impaired convictions are just as grave as those for a DWI.
Source: “Erin Brockovich-Ellis says sorry after boating arrest at Lake Mead,” by Riley Snyder, published at LasVegasSun.com.