By Madison Dow
Massachusetts boating safety advocates are calling for stricter enforcement of laws on boating under the influence of alcohol as boating accidents have doubled over the past decade.
Since 2005, boating under the influence has taken 30 lives and caused 42 injuries in Massachusetts alone according the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center.
In Massachusetts waters in 2005, there were 45 accidents reported to the BSRC in comparison to 89 reported in 2015.
In early June 2015, a woman’s arm was cut off after she jumped overboard and was struck by the propeller while the driver was under the influence of alcohol, according to the charges in the case.
Alcohol slows the brain’s speed of perceiving the five senses and decreases the ability to balance according to the Fish and Boat Commission. The Fish and Boat Commission protects, conserves and enhances the state’s natural aquatic resources.
Massachusetts’ laws state that anyone operating a boat with a breath or blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or larger is under the influence.
William Gossard a retired senior program manager of the National Transportation Safety Board says, “If we could get people to bring no alcohol on boats that would be best of all.”
Gossard was with the National Transportation Safety Board investigating wreckage and finding causes of boating accidents for 30 years until he retired in 2011.
In contrast to operating a car, boaters are allowed to have an open container of alcohol on board while driving.
Gossard says many boaters do not take driving a boat as seriously as driving a car. The mindset of some boaters is that boating is just recreation while car is transportation.
“Boating has always been part of recreation and recreation is consuming alcoholic beverages, and some things do not change,” says Lieutenant John Girvalakis of the Boat and Recreation Vehicle Safety Bureau of the Massachusetts Environmental Police.
“We have to change the culture of boating because beer plays a large part of the culture,” says Cox. “The first thing people do is put a bucket of beer on the boat.”
“Many people read about it in the paper and they’re not boaters it doesn’t affect them” says Cox, a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and former cargo ship captain.
According to Girvalakis, there have been seven cases of boating under the influence so far this year, as of mid July.
On a dock in Boston Harbor, Wayne Gravlin, a boater from Billerica, Massachusetts says, “I’ve witnessed first hand the effect of boating under the influence.”
“I waited two weeks with my friend’s family while the US Coast Guard and first responders searched Long Island Sound for my friend.”
“After he struck a jetty and was ejected from his boat, his body was finally discovered by a fisherman. It was an avoidable tragedy.”
The effects of alcohol are more pronounced while on a boat than in the operation of a vehicle due to many stress factors such as wind, vibration and wave action says Ron Walsh.
Walsh runs the private boating education company called Boatsafe Massachusetts, and is an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Cox describes alcohol abuse and inexperience as the two largest causes of accidents in the Boston Harbor. Cox spent 30 years at sea as the captain of a container ship and continues to enjoy boating as recreation today.
When the Boston Harbor Safety Committee was created in 1999, Cox filled the chairman position.