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Alcohol and boats not a good mix

Posted on Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

DanPearson J. Daniel Pearson
Under the  Bobber

It happened more than 20 years ago, but the memory still burns fresh in my mind.
Back in 1993, when I working with the Kansas City Royals at spring training at Baseball City,  I was shocked to hear that Cleveland Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin had died and teammate Bobby Ojeda was severely injured when the boat Crews was driving slammed into a dock on Little Lake Nellie near Clermont.
The players had a rare day off during spring training and they were enjoying it with their families when the trio, along with strength coach Fernando Montes, decided on to go on a late afternoon fishing trip.
After shoving off, the players realized that they had forgotten some tackle boxes and went back to shore, where Montes lost a game of “rock, paper, scissors” and was let off the boat to retrieve the gear from a parked car.
After dropping off Montes, Crews revved the engine of the fast bass boat and was making a large circle so he could get back to pick up Montes when he slammed into the pier.
Investigators would later determine that a number of factors contributed to the tragedy, one being that Crews’ blood alcohol level was above the legal limit.
Although this is a dramatic example, it is not an uncommon one.
Florida has the unfortunate distinction of leading the nation in annual boating fatalities.
Last year, a full 15 percent of the 60 boating fatalities in the state of Florida were attributed to alcohol and drug use.
And that is why the state of Florida created Operation Dry Water.
The program, now in its sixth year, was designed to create awareness to the dangers of drinking and operating a boat.
“Alcohol and drug-related boating accidents are preventable,” said Capt. Tom Shipp of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Boating and Waterways Section. “Even one death is too many. We want all boaters to enjoy the freedom to get out on the water and the opportunity to do it safely.”
Boaters who have had too much to drink or who are impaired by drugs are a great danger to the boating public.
“If you’re caught boating under the influence, you may be fined and jailed, your boat may be seized, and you could lose your boating privileges,” Shipp said. “But most importantly, you are risking your life, the lives of your passengers and the lives of other people out on the water.
“Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs a boat operator’s vision and reaction time. Sun, wind, fatigue and other conditions can intensify the effects alcohol or drugs have on a boater.”
And the dangers are not just limited to the boat operator.
Intoxicated boat passengers are also susceptible to injuries from falling because of impaired coordination and balance.
The FWC reminds boaters to be careful and to make responsible decisions that keep themselves and others safe.
“We want everyone to have a great time and stay safe on the water,” Shipp said. “Carelessly choosing to operate a boat while impaired is a decision that can result in a tragic ending to an otherwise wonderful day on the water.”
It is important for all of us to recognize that operating a boat is no different than operating a car when it comes to drug usage.
The fun of boating makes us forget about the inherent dangers that can occur from operating watercraft.
And it is no coincidence that many guys who operate boats for a living in Osceola County – our professional bass guides – have a strict no beer or alcohol policy on their boats.
The FWC requires that boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must complete an FWC-approved boating safety course and acquire a  FWC-issued boater safety education ID card before operating a motorboat with 10 or more horsepower. An approved course-completion certificate and photo ID is acceptable for up to 90 days.
There are exemptions.
See the website for further information.
The FWC reports that more than 65 percent of boating accidents in Florida last year came from 11 counties, and the good news is that Osceola County is not one of them.
But, nearby Brevard County is. South Florida counties such as Miami-Dade, Collier, Monroe, Broward, Palm Beach and Lee all are among the 11 most dangerous counties. The others are Duval, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Okaloosa.
It may sound obvious, but always wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket. Children age 6 and under are required to wear life jackets on inland waterways.
Unfortunately, accidents are always going to happen.
But a little common sense can go a long way in preventing a lot of them.
Please take heed of this advice and enjoy a safe holiday weekend.
As always – tight lines and good fishing!