Most of us go boating to escape the pressures of life on land and enjoy the freedom that it brings. And though it might be tempting to enjoy a relaxing alcoholic drink while on board, you should be aware of the risks of drinking and boating.
In 2005, two powerboats collided near St Mawes in Cornwall, resulting in the death of one of the helmsmen. A subsequent Marine Accident Investigation Branch report found that alcohol was a contributory factor, as the helmsmen of both boats were navigating under the influence of alcohol.
The report said the dangers of drinking and boating are numerous. It stated: “The key effects of alcohol consumption pertinent to this accident are: reduced peripheral vision, poor night vision, deterioration of judgment and slower reaction times. These factors are all key to navigating a high-speed craft in near darkness. There are currently no national laws against recreational users navigating on water while under the influence of alcohol.”
This incident involved two high-speed powerboats, but even slower sailing boats can be involved in dangerous accidents. Although there are no national laws covering drinking and boating, you can be prosecuted under a number of other acts and byelaws:
Merchant Shipping Act 1995
You may be prosecuted under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 if your actions are seen to be endangering other vessels, structures or individuals.
Most harbour authorities have byelaws under which they can prosecute if you are found to be under the influence of alcohol when in charge of a vessel.
Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003
A law to introduce drink driving offences (including specific alcohol limits) for non-professional mariners was included in the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, but according to the Royal Yachting Association this provision has not been brought into force at the time of writing.
Most sensible boaters realise that mixing alcohol and boating is a dangerous pursuit. On the water, a situation can change rapidly and turn from a pleasant sail to a dangerous state of affairs in no time, so it’s best to be as ready and alert as possible at all times.
Most people don’t drink while sailing, but a larger number of people do have a drink when they’re moored up. Even that has its risks: pontoons can be slippery, especially in winter, and climbing in and out of dinghies comes with its own risks.
In short, drinking and boating is a risky business, so don’t do it.