Drunk boating concerns increase with rise in tickets issued

Coast Guard law enforcement teams are finding more boaters are under the influence on the Great Lakes.

Coast Guard law enforcement teams are finding more boaters are under the influence on the Great Lakes.

The number of citations for boating under the influence is approaching 100 for the summer season, which is up over previous years. Through Aug. 13 in 2012, 84 tickets were issued. The number was a bit higher in 2011 with 92, and in 2010 the number was 54.

Alcohol consumption continues to be a leading contributing factor in recreational boating accidents, injuries and deaths. According to the

Coast Guard's Recreational Boating Statistics 2012 report

, the most current validated statistics available, alcohol use was determined to be the leading factor in nearly 17-percent of the recreational boating deaths in 2012.

"Keeping the waterways safe for everyone is a top Coast Guard priority, which is why we enforce boating-under-the-influence laws so rigorously," said Rear. Adm. Fred Midgette, commander of the Coast Guard 9th District. "BUI puts everyone on the water in danger, not just the person who is irresponsibly drinking. Passengers who are under the influence can drown while swimming from anchored or adrift vessels."

"Not only is boating under the influence just as illegal as driving under the influence, it's just as dangerous," said Cmdr. David Beck, chief of the Coast Guard 9th District Enforcement Branch. "The environmental influences of the sun, vibration, waves and dehydration can magnify the effects of consuming alcohol on the water. Coast Guard crews on the Great Lakes have conducted more than 10,000 recreational boating safety boardings this season. Roughly 1-percent of these boardings have resulted in a BUI citation. The percentage of intoxicated boaters may not seem high to some, but drinking and boating is a high risk activity that boat operators can control. If you plan to consume alcohol, plan ahead and have a sober operator return you home safely."

BUI laws are enforced at the state and federal level. Penalties for BUI conviction by the state are governed by the applicable state BUI laws.

Consequences of BUI conviction vary based on location of the incident, enforcement option exercised, and specific facts of each case, including repetitive violations and negligent operations. Civil penalties can be as high as $5,000, and a federal ticket may result in a Class A misdemeanor. Collateral consequences of BUI conviction could include increased insurance premiums and, for licensed mariners, revocation and/or suspension of merchant mariner credentials.

The Coast Guard recently approved the use of a seated sobriety test to help determine if a boat operator is impaired.

The new sobriety tests include a greater proportion of gaze-tracking elements and hand-eye coordination. They include names such as palm pat, hand coordination, and horizontal gaze nystagmus. Nystagmus is a quick, erratic movement of the eyes, and it signals the inability to focus in sobriety tests, specifically when the issuing officer instructs the subject to focus on a pencil moving back and forth.