Drinking and Recreational Boating

In a landmark study on drinking and boating, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, HSRC researchers collaborated with colleagues from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health to conduct the first population-based, case-control study of the role of alcohol in recreational boating deaths. To do this, evidence about of drinking by persons who had died in North Carolina and Maryland in recreational boating incidents between 1989 and 1998 were combined with interview data and BAC measurements obtained a probability sample of 3,943 boaters from recreational boaters sampled and interviewed while boating on lakes, rivers and coastal bays & sounds during three summers in North Carolina and Maryland. Deaths involved in commercial boating – which is a very different phenomenon – were excluded.

Highlights of the findings of the study include:

  • Recreational boat passengers are just as likely as operators to die as a result of drinking alcohol. A primary reason for this is that most boating fatalities involve falling overboard and drowning, rather than collisions. Drinking increases the risk to passengers of falling into the water, and of drowning once in the water, even if the operator has not been drinking.
  • Even with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of only 0.01%, the risk to operators and passengers increased 30% compared to individuals with no alcohol in their blood. The risk of death was more than 52 times greater when victims showed a blood alcohol content of 0.25%.
  • About 80 percent of boating fatalities result from drowning.
  • Efforts to reduce boating deaths that target only operators – such as legal limits for boat operators or suggestions to use “designated operators” – fail to protect many boaters who are at risk. Different approaches that will address all boat occupants, along with the fact that drownings rather than collisions are the primary problem, are needed.

View Full Article:

Smith, G; Keyl, P; Hadley, J; Bartley, C; Foss, R; Tolbert, W; McKnight, J. Drinking and Recreational Boating Fatalities: A Population-Based Case-Control Study. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2001; 286: 2974-2980.