Alcohol and water don’t mix

Lookout! Issue 24, March 2012

Alcohol, even in small quantities, affects your coordination and judgement, and exaggerates confidence.
Alcohol and maritime incidents
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
Alcohol also affects your ability to react; its effects are exaggerated on and in the water.

Boating and alcohol can be a deadly combination

Alcohol also affects your ability to react when something goes wrong, and its effects are exaggerated on and in the water.

Consumption of alcohol may:

  • impair your ability to react if something goes wrong
  • increase the likelihood of you ending up in the water by accident
  • change the way your body reacts when you enter the water
  • decrease your body’s ability to respond effectively once you are in the water, through confusion and lack of coordination.

It doesn’t take much alcohol or time...

Alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood stream and its effects are usually apparent within minutes. Even moderate drinking can seriously impair your ability to operate a boat safely.

Drinking alcohol faster than your body can process it will increase blood alcohol levels. Alcohol is burned off at a fairly constant rate - at about one standard drink per hour. Consumption of any amount of alcohol may be dangerous, but the higher the resulting blood alcohol level, the greater the danger. Alcohol affects people differently and reactions will vary, depending on factors such as the type of alcohol you have consumed, and your body weight, food consumption, medication, stress and fatigue.

No matter what the activity, alcohol affects balance, vision, coordination and judgement. In boating, factors like wind, sun, noise, motion and vibration can magnify the effects of alcohol and accelerate impairment.

A momentary lapse that might pass unnoticed on shore can have dangerous consequences out on the water.

You’re the skipper, you’re responsible

As a skipper, you’re responsible for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on board your boat. A responsible skipper will never operate under the influence of alcohol or allow an intoxicated person to operate their boat.

Operating a boat is at least as complicated as driving a car, and a boating accident can be just as lethal as a road accident. Many people who would never drive drunk think it’s safe to operate their boat after drinking. It isn’t.

You can be prosecuted for operating a boat in a manner that causes unnecessary danger, under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act.

Avoid or limit alcohol - moderation and common sense should dictate how much alcohol is consumed on your boat. Limit consumption to one standard drink (or less) per hour. It’s better to wait until you’re anchored for the day before enjoying alcoholic beverages on board, and even then, you should limit intake. The best policy is to wait until you’re on dry land.

If you’re on board, you need to be prepared

If you’re on board a boat and intoxicated, you are a danger to yourself and put others at risk. Parents supervising children need to be particularly alert while on the water.

If you’ve been drinking, the risks escalate greatly the moment you end up in the water.

Alcohol will:

  • decrease your coordination and ability to perform a simple task, such as putting on a lifejacket
  • increase your sense of disorientation
  • make it harder for you to stay afloat
  • lower concentrations of blood going to your brain and muscles, contributing to muscle, heat and fluid loss
  • reduce your ability to hold your breath
  • suppress your airway protection reflexes and make it easier for you to inhale water
  • give you a false sense of your situation, causing you to attempt tasks beyond your abilities
  • reduce your awareness of the onset of hypothermia.

Make sure you don’t go overboard if you’re taking a leak

There have been a number of cases in recent years where experienced mariners have fallen overboard while urinating off the side and drowned (especially at night). Be careful where and how you go.

There’s no such thing as ‘Off the block’ on a boat or ship

Mariners on board a vessel should always be capable of performing any tasks required of them. This is particularly important on a ship, where an emergency requiring action by the crew may arise at any time.

Other alcohol related stories previously covered in Lookout!

Inflatable’s propeller strikes fun-seeker

A party-goer ended a work function with lacerations to the leg after being mauled by the propeller.

Read full story

PWC kills joyriding teenager

Jetski PWC kills
A group of partying teenagers took to the water on PWCs (or jetskis), killing one of their own.

Read full story

As though daddy were still here

Moon rising
When a father’s body was recovered, the post-mortem found high levels of alcohol in his blood.

Read full story

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