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Boating and alcohol; a bad mix!

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How many boating accidents are there in Wisconsin?

It is hard to believe but the 4th of July weekend is finally upon us. All of us are looking forward to the holiday weekend to spend time with family and friends. People are planning family picnics, camping trips, going to the zoo or a ballgame, attending Summerfest, and being out on the water on boats. We are heading up north to our cabin with family and friends. We have a boat and weather permitting, I expect to be on the water a lot this weekend, pulling skiers, tubing and just plain having fun on the water enjoying the nice weather and the great outdoors. Unfortunately, many times there are serious accidents when boating, that results in deaths and serious injuries. While boating is a great summer recreational activity, when mixed with alcohol, it can become deadly. I like to use the term “TMA,” meaning too much alcohol. This blog is devoted to boating safety and the dangers of alcohol that can lead to serious accidents or even death.

As of December 31, 2014, there were 628,277 registered vessels in Wisconsin. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources-Wisconsin Boating Pub-LE-14-2014). During 2014, there were 117 boating accidents resulting in 82 individuals who were injured and 9 fatalities. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Boating, Pub-LE-14.2014). 2014 boating accidents involved 161 vessels, 78% motorized and 22% non-motorized. Property damage totaled $809,059, where damage information was reported. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Boating Pub-LE-14-2014). The number of boating accidents in 2014 at 117 was the highest it has been over the last 5 years. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Boating Pub. LE-14-2014). The fatality rate in 2014 was 1.43 death per 100,000 registered recreational vehicles. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Boating Pub-LE-14-2014). 17% of the operators involved in a boating accident were between the ages of 40-49, while 33% of the fatalities were between the ages of 20-29. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Boating Pub-LE-14-2014). There were 184 BUI/OUI intoxicated boating citations issued in 2014. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Boating Pub-LE-14-2014).

An accident that happened on June 10, 2014 is a prime example where alcohol was involved that led to a fatality. In this accident that happened at Deep Woods Lake, in Langlade County, the victim was being towed on an inner-tube. There was slack in the towline causing the motorboat to stop and resulted in the operator and other occupant to be ejected from the boat. The boat began operating in a circuitous manner; the victim jumped off the inner-tube, not being able to swim. Alcohol was a factor in the accident. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 2014 Boating Fatality Summary)

According the United States Coast Guard, in 2014, there were 277 boating accidents involving alcohol use, resulting in 108 deaths and 248 injuries. (U.S. Coast guard 2014 recreational boating statistics COMDTPUB P16754.28). According to the same report, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 21% of deaths. (U.S. Coast Guard 2014 recreational boating statistics, COMDTPUB P16754.28).

In Wisconsin, a boating DUI has the same BAC limits as traditional DUIs. If you are operating a boat with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher, you are at the legal limit, same as operating a vehicle while under the influence. (Attorney Tom Grieve, www.grievelaw.com). If you are a commercial boater than your limit becomes .04%. A first boating DUI or violating the refusal law carries a fine of $150-$300. A 2nd boating DUI carries a fine of $300-$1,000 and jail time of 5 days to 6 months. (Attorney Tom Grieve, www.grievelaw.com). While there is no loss of license from a boating under the influence offense, a first offense DUI will result in a license suspension of 6-9 moths, and a second DUI will result in a license revocation of 12-18 months. (Attorney Tom Grieve, www.grievelaw.com). If there is a serious boating accident while operating while impaired, a person also runs the risk of being charged with DUI vehicular manslaughter. (Attorney Tom Grieve, www.grivelaw.com).

We have all been told and know the saying well, “don’t drink and drive.” Well the same holds true for operating a boat. This 4th of July and at all times when operating a boat and being on the water, “don’t drink and boat.” There is nothing wrong with having a drink and relaxing with friends and family over the holiday weekend. Simply don’t drive while doing so, don’t operate a boat while doing so, don’t ski behind a boat while doing so, don’t operate a PWC while doing so or swim while doing so. Be safe, don’t be sorry!

For further information on boating safety:
1. 2014 Recreational Boating Statistics- United States Coastguard COMPDTPUB P16754.28
2.Wisconsin Boating- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2014 Pub-LE-14-2014
For further information on the laws and penalties for Boating DUI’s in Wisconsin:
1. Attorney Tom Grieve, www.grievelaw.com

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