Boozing and boating: a cold shower as we head into the season

Simple pleasures are what makes life worth living. And I’ll
admit, one of my simple pleasures on a hot day on the lake (when
I’m not out there professionally) is to boat a big salmon, hand the
rod to one of my fishing partners to be reset, then hoist a cold
brew from the cooler.

Michigan, like most states, doesn’t have laws prohibiting open
containers on boats as is the mandate for vehicles on public
highways. There is a blood alcohol limit for operating a boat of
.10, above which, if caught, you are in as deep do-do as if you are
above the .08 limit on the highway, and rightly so. But a single
beer in a guy my size is innocent enough that my personal
moral alarm doesn’t go off at the thought.

But did you know, as a boat owner or operator, even if you aren’t
drinking anything harder than bottled water, when on the lake you
assume all or at least some of the liability for other people
aboard who have been drinking? Keep that in mind when your guests
show up with a full cooler of barley pops.

One of the earliest field sobriety tests used by police officers is
having the suspected alcohol abuser walk a straight line. The booze
affects the boozer’s balance and perception to the point they fall
off the line. Now put that guy on the deck of a moving boat and the
same lack of balance and perception can lead to falls on deck, from
fly bridges, into open hatches, down the companionway, even
overboard.

Insurance company claim reports and police files are full of
instances where toxicology tests done after an accident or tragedy
point to high levels of alcohol in serious incidents. And don’t
think that just because the victim was a close friend or even a
relative, you will be relieved of responsibility. If you are the
skipper, expect a call from an insurance company’s lawyer if not a
man with a badge and sidearm.

The complaints often allege that the skipper should have known of
the passenger’s condition and prevented the injury or death. In
some states, a boat owner can be found liable simply for serving
the alcohol.

Unlike an automobile, where you can fasten passenger’s seatbelts
and drive them home, passengers on a boat, while you’re at the
helm, are often free to roam about and even to have more
drinks.

What’s a sober and otherwise competent skipper supposed to
do?

For one thing, the skipper should limit the amount of alcohol
that’s consumed aboard the boat and stop serving drinks before
someone becomes intoxicated. As a practical matter, this isn’t
always easy; some people bring their own alcohol or the condition
of your boat mates may not be readily apparent. The best solution,
however, if you have friends who have a problems with alcohol, is
to invite them to your home and not to your boat.

Get insurance

Years ago, the only insurance I had for my boat was umbrella
coverage on my auto insurance, which covered the boat while on the
trailer and heading down the road, and on my home insurance, which
included liability. In a frank discussion with my insurance agent,
I learned that was far from enough.

Serious accidents, whether or not you are properly insured, often
end up in court and the judge or jury decides the liability level
of the boat owner. The judgement may range from zero to 100
percent, depending on the degree of perceived negligence. Often
just as pricey are awards to victims for pain and suffering, loss
of potential earning power and other dollar amounts. So check with
your agent for recommendations to ensure you are properly
insured.

Then head for the lake on the next hot day, catch a big fish and
enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Just one. And feel the
satisfaction that comes with knowing you are in control.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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