Boating under the Influence – Still dangerous, still illegal

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Boating under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or dangerous drugs – yes, it’s still dangerous and still against the law.

Let’s review applicable federal laws and regulations.

The law is found in 46 USC 2302(c) along with negligent operation (2302(a), and grossly negligent operation 2302(b). 2302(c) states that an individual who is under the influence of alcohol or a dangerous drug is in violation of a law of the United States when operating a vessel, as determined under standards prescribed by the Secretary by regulation.

Joseph Carro, Boating Safety Division, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety
Joseph Carro, Boating Safety Division, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety

These regulations are found in 33 CFR 95. They provide for many of the details of BUI enforcement, purpose, applicability, and definitions among others. One of the others of some importance is the adoption of state blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. This allows for a BAC standard established by a state to be enforced if it differs from the established Coast Guard standard.

Statistics still indicate that alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, where a primary cause was known. Alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 21 percent of deaths in 2014. It was also the primary contributing factor in 277 accidents resulting in 108 deaths and 248 injuries that year.

Yes, alcohol misuse is still dangerous and still against the law.

We now have some new enforcement challenges: Boating Under the Influence of Drugs (BUI-D). This has always been against the law and is covered in the same regulations and laws indicated above. Part of the problem for enforcement officers has been determining levels of ‘under the influence.’ Questions have been: Under what drug? How much? How long ago was that drug used and to what level of impairment? Technology, officer training and knowledge, and acceptance of these enforcement efforts continue to improve. Public awareness will also (hopefully) be a factor contributing to better acceptance of these BUI-D enforcement efforts.

Still another challenge is increased drug or alcohol misuse in the commercial maritime sector. According to the Coast Guard Drug and Alcohol Prevention Investigation Program Manager (CG-INV), positive random drug test results indicating the presence of illegal drug or alcohol use have increased. This presents still another challenge for enforcement officers: How can we help? Detecting illegal alcohol use following a marine casualty is a challenge both for the marine employer and the U.S. Coast Guard. Per 46 CFR Part 16, alcohol testing of the persons involved must be completed within two hours of the casualty. However, logistical factors such as distance to the casualty site, weather or availability of waterborne transportation of the test collector to the casualty site often exceeds two hours. Law enforcement officials on-site capable of conducting evidentiary alcohol testing may serve as a force-multiplier to determine if alcohol misuse is a factor contributing to the casualty.

108_BUI2Yes, alcohol misuse is still dangerous and still against the law.

We continue to improve and execute our enforcement efforts. BUI training opportunities – including Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training programs, including the NASBLA BUI training programs – provide standardized training for law enforcement officers from around the country. This standardized training is critical, resulting in all trained officers receiving and conducting the same BUI law enforcement techniques.

We also continue to implement and conduct innovative law enforcement operations and techniques, including interagency operations not seen before. This is extremely important with the rapidly changing drug laws in many states.

A great example of this is being conducted at Coast Guard Station Miami Beach. The station procured an Intoxilizer 8000 chemical breath-testing instrument. This is the only device recognized by the state of Florida to provide evidentiary findings. The station’s boarding officers attended the Breath Test Operators (BTO) course and are now state-certified to conduct testing at the Coast Guard Station. Results: Now a maritime officer can bring a subject directly to the Coast Guard Station for testing with no delays, transportation concerns or search for a qualified BTO. At this time Station Miami Beach is the only station with this capability.

Still another element of our continued BUI-D enforcement efforts is the implementation of pilot programs utilizing the Drager 5000 analyzer, which provides for fast, accurate, on-scene drug detection testing. This program began in Florida at the Coast Guard Station in Miami with 15 crewmembers having received training in the operation of the Drager. It is now at the station, at the ready. The BUI-D enforcement program is now continuing in California with implementation in Sector Los Angles and Sector San Francisco.

Yes, boating under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs is still dangerous and still against the law. It is obvious that this is a great enforcement challenge and with many deaths, accidents and injuries directly related to alcohol and drug use, this must continue to be an enforcement priority for all. We have new tools, new techniques and new enforcement priorities to keep us engaged for now and into the future.

Keep up the great work, have a safe boating day.

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