The forecast for this Memorial Day weekend may not be warm and blue-sky, but it's still the official kickoff of the boating season in Oregon. The Oregon State Marine Board wants to remind boaters headed to the water for fun to stay sober, wear a life jacket and be courteous to other boaters.
"A fun-filled day can turn tragic from drinking while boating. It impairs your judgment and you take risks you normally wouldn't," says Ashley Massey, public information officer for the Marine Board. "We see a lot of reckless operation and behavior, not to mention falling overboard when people consume alcohol and many of the accident victims are passengers. The operator is not only responsible for their boat, but their passengers' safety, too."
The U.S. Coast Guard reports that remains in the top 10 contributing factors in accidents and fatalities. In 2011 there were 296 accidents with 243 injuries and 125 deaths attributed to alcohol consumption, nationwide.
Alcohol or other substances impair judgment, vision, balance and coordination and the effects are amplified on the water due to the motion of the boat and environmental stressors such as glare, wind and sun -- increasing the likelihood of boating accidents and fatalities. And the reality is any amount of alcohol impairs a person to some degree, usually starting with their inhibitions.
In Oregon, a boater is considered legally "under the influence" with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. What this means is the boater will automatically lose boating privileges and pay a hefty fine. Marine deputies can still arrest boaters for observed impairment below 0.08 percent BAC, which can still lead to a boating under the influence of intoxicants (BUII) conviction. An impaired boat operator who is arrested for BUII faces fines of up to $6,250 and/or up to one year in jail, loss of boat operation privileges and suspension of boat registration for up to three years.
"Reckless operation is taken very seriously," said Massey. "We have to be tough on violators to keep Oregon's waterways safe for everyone, because innocent people are usually the victims."
Play it safe by:
* Leaving alcohol at home or on the shore. Instead, take along a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of water.
* If you are feeling fatigued, take a break on land and return to the water when you are reenergized and alert.
* If you dock somewhere to eat and choose to drink alcohol with your meal, wait a minimum of one hour for each drink consumed before operating your watercraft.
* Being alcohol-free while onboard is the safest way to enjoy the water. Intoxicated passengers are equally at risk of injury and death.
* Operators and passengers should wear properly fitting life jackets. To learn more about life jacket types, styles and legal requirements, visit http://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/pages/safety/lifejacket.aspx.
* Take a boating safety course. In Oregon, all boaters must now take a boating safety course and carry a boater education card when operating a powerboat greater than 10 horsepower.
* Never boat alone -especially when paddling.
For more information about safe boating in Oregon, visit www.boatoregon.com