In July of 2016, a young boater and his friends were cruising Lake George in upstate New York when they struck another boat. They fled the scene, leaving in their wake a critically injured woman and a dead eight-year-old girl. The story dominated the news from Lake George all the way down to New York City, a horrifying tale of summer fun gone terribly wrong.
The man driving the boat eventually turned himself in, and as the story came out, we learned that he was drunk when driving the boat, and that drugs and alcohol were in use by some of the people on board. It became clear that the crash was avoidable, and that the driver of the boat was guilty of grave irresponsibility. A jury and judge agreed, and the drive was sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison. It’s too late now for that boat owner to avoid his mistake, and too late for the little girl that he killed. But it’s not too late for new boat owners to learn the most valuable lesson of boat safety: to never, ever operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Never go boating while under the influence
It’s no secret that alcohol and boats are often found in the same places. There are bars right on the coasts of many vacation towns, and most of us drink a bit on vacation – which is precisely when we do our boating. Vacation is for renting a boat (that is, if you haven’t already made the decision to buy a boat) and tooling around the lake, and plenty of passengers will take that opportunity to open a cooler of beer. The temptation is always there for the captain to indulge a bit, too – but nothing could be more dangerous.
It has taken our society years to become more fully aware of the dangers of drunk driving, but progress over the past few decades has been remarkable. Penalties for those who choose to drive cars while under the influence are stiffer than ever, while high-profile manslaughter cases and awareness-raising campaigns have helped us understand that the price of driving drunk is all too often the death of an innocent person – or of the intoxicated driver him- or herself.
But as good as we’ve become about our awareness of drunk driving on the road, we still have a ways to go when it comes to drunk driving on the water. The idea of a cooler of beer open in a moving vehicle would appal most of us, but we take it for granted on the lake – and maybe we shouldn’t. Even when the vehicle is docked or before it’s taken out, the captain needs to be aware that he or she is in charge of getting everyone safely out and back. A beer before driving a boat is not a good idea.
It’s worth mentioning that staying sober isn’t equally easy for everyone. No matter how tough it is for you, however, your obligation remains exactly the same: you should never drink and drive a boat. If you do have problems limiting your alcohol consumption, don’t give in – match the strength of the desire with the strength of a supportive group like the one you’ll find in a twelve-step program. The original twelve-step program, and the most successful alcoholism program in history, is Alcoholics Anonymous – if you need help with your drinking, check online for AA meetings in your area.
It’s not just alcohol: stay away from drugs, too! While drugs on boats are less common than alcohol, they’re still a very real danger – as terrible accidents like the one on Lake George remind us. Living the high life on a boat is not an excuse to indulge in “glamorous” drugs like cocaine, and relaxing in the sun is not an excuse for “laid back” drugs like marijuana. Both of these drugs – and countless others – are proven to impair your ability when driving. Even in states where marijuana is legal to buy and consume, it remains illegal to operate a vehicle while high. On top of that, there are plenty of restrictions regarding where you can and can’t smoke, and many natural vacation destinations qualify.
If you’re planning to go out on your boat, don’t drink or take any drugs at all that day until you’re safely back at home. And while it should go without saying, it’s extremely important to note that getting drunk or high while on the water is every bit as dangerous as getting drunk or high before you get on your boat. Until you’re safely back on shore, you need to resist the temptation to drink a few cold ones. That can be tough when your family and friends are drinking aboard the boat, but remember that in order for anyone to enjoy a beer out on the water, one person needs to stay sober and be responsible for getting everyone back to shore. It’s not a bad idea to designate a “first mate” to stay sober as well, both to keep the captain company (and help resist peer pressure) and to be available in case the drive falls ill or is otherwise unable to drive. Remember, no matter what, you should never allow an intoxicated person to drive a boat – whether it’s yours or anyone else’s.