TRAVERSE CITY — Boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs remains a serious problem on the Great Lakes even though the number of pilots busted for intoxication is down from a decade ago, the U.S. Coast Guard says.
Agency personnel stationed on the five lakes had issued 89 citations for drunken boating this year through Aug. 13, said Lt. Davey Connor, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 9th District office in Cleveland. That’s up from 84 during the same period a year ago but still an improvement from 2005, when the number had reached 262 by the same date.
“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 district’s enforcement branch. “If you plan to consume alcohol, plan ahead and have a sober operator return you home safely.”
Alcohol use is a leading cause of fatal boating accidents, the Coast Guard says.
It’s not illegal to drink on the Great Lakes, but vessel operators are expected to remain clear-headed. The legal threshold for impaired boating in most of the region’s eight states is a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent, the same as for driving a motor vehicle.
But many people don’t realize that a boat’s rocking motion, engine vibration and noise — along with sun and wind — can intensify the effects of alcohol, Connor said. A boat operator probably will become impaired more quickly than an automobile driver after consuming the same amount, he said.
The Coast Guard doesn’t set up checkpoints as law enforcement agencies sometimes do on roads, said Lt. Andy Perodeau of the enforcement branch. But officers look for signs of intoxicated pilots during routine inspections, when they check vessels to make sure they have equipment such as life jackets and seasonal flares. They also spot vessels operating erratically and receive tips from other boaters.