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John Demas
John Demas
Attorney • (866) 735-1102 Ext 575

Drinking, Boating and the California Law

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“Don’t Drink and Drive”. Everyone knows that rule when it comes to cars on the highway and keeping intoxicated drivers off the road. But all too often that same rule gets pushed aside when it comes to heading out into the water in a boat with friends and family. Yet, alcohol and boating can be a deadly mix. And so, that same basic rule—Don’t Drink and Boat—applies when you’re out on the water.

Alcohol causes both physical and mental impairment, which has a huge impact on boating safety. In fact, the effects of alcohol are often exaggerated when boating as compared to driving a car due to factors such as boat and engine noise, bright sun, glare off the water, vibration, wave action, temperature and wind. Because alcohol is a depressant, it acts to slow sensory abilities and as a result boating skills decrease. Specifically, alcohol negatively effects: depth perception; peripheral, color, and night vision; reaction time; balance and coordination; and comprehension and concentration. Alcohol also causes people to become overconfident, increasing the likelihood of exercising poor judgment and taking more risks out on the water. All of these factors combined produce a dangerous situation when alcohol and boating mix. Some studies indicate that nearly 25% of all boating accidents involve alcohol. And in California, alcohol plays a role in 49% of all fatal boating accidents. In addition, more than 80% of people who die in boating accidents are drowning victims. Because alcohol reduces balance and coordination, it increases the likelihood of being falling overboard.

Given the clear evidence linking alcohol and boating accidents, California state law makes it illegal to drink and boat. Specifically, state law establishes that:

No person shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. No person who is addicted to any drug shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device.

No person 21 years of age or older shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device who has .08% or more, by weigh, of alcohol in their blood. A level of at least .05% but less than .08% may be used with other evidence in determining whether the person was under the influence of alcohol. A person under 21 years of age or older who has been arrested for operating a mechanically propelled vessel “under the influence” may be requested to submit to a chemical test to determine blood-alcohol content. Refusal may result in increased penalties upon conviction. A person convicted of operation of a vessel while intoxicated could receive up to a $1000 fine and six months in jail.

No person under 21 years of age may operate a vessel, water skis or similar device who has .01% or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood. Penalties may include a fine of up to $250, and participation in an alcohol education or community service program.