Study shows alcohol boosts death risk for boat passengers as well as operators

risk of death was more than 52 times greater when victims showed a blood alcohol content of .25 milligrams per deciliter.

The estimated risk associated with alcohol use was similar for passengers and operators and did not vary by boat type or whether the boat was moving or stationary, Foss said. People often assume that alcohol-related boating accidents involve a collision, he said. That happens, of course, but most deaths result from drowning, often when boats arent moving at all. About 80 percent of boating fatalities result from drowning, the team found.

Just falling out of the boat and drowning is surprisingly common, he said. That means prevention activities oriented toward boat operators alone wont work as well as they do with drivers on the roads. If youve got a stone-cold sober boat operator and an impaired passenger, that passenger is still at high risk.

The crazed drunken boater ramming his boat into a dock or another boat is a pretty rare phenomenon, Foss said. As a result, simply using a designated driver for a boat or setting a blood alcohol content limit for boat operators leaves much of the problem unaddressed.

Besides analyzing medical examiner data, investigators spent three summers interviewing and obtaining breath measurements from boaters across North Carolina and Maryland as part of their research.

Before we did the study, we had a fairly good idea about the risk curve for drinking drivers on the road, but we had no idea about the risk for boaters who had been drinking, Foss said. This study gives us the first look at the shape of the risk curve for boaters.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism supported the research. About 800 people died in the United States in 1998 from recreational boating accidents, and early studies have linked more than half such deaths to alcohol use.


Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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