In and around the Wilmington area, residents and tourists alike enjoy lazy days on the water during the summer months. But drinking and boating is a concern to officials whose goal is boating safety.
Inexperienced boaters, especially, may not realize the dangers of drinking alcohol while aboard.
The effects of alcohol
Boating under the influence of alcohol has many similarities to driving under the influence because it can affect vision, coordination and judgment. The major difference is that impairment occurs much more quickly on water than on land.
Sun, wind and spray combined with engine noise, vibration and the motion of the boat are stressors that lead to fatigue and cause cognitive ability and reaction time to decline. The more alcohol a boater consumes, the faster the impairment escalates, creating a dangerous environment for both driver and passengers.
Issues unique to boating
In addition to a deterioration in the ability to recognize and successfully manage possible hazards, boaters who drink have reduced peripheral vision and depth perception. They find it difficult to identify colors properly, especially red and green. Moreover, alcohol can affect the inner ear, and a boater who falls overboard may not be able to tell up from down.
Laws prohibiting BUI
It is against the law to operate a boat while drinking alcohol. In New Hanover County, three entities enforce both state and federal laws pertaining to BUI: the United States Coast Guard, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Personnel from any one of these can make an arrest for BUI.
The testing that follows is similar to the testing for DUI, and the penalties, including possible jail time and loss of license, are much the same. However, visitors to the Wilmington area may not be aware that a BUI that results in serious injuries or death is a felony accompanied by prison time of at least three years.