By Sanya Sawlani
When Jack Cannon ties the knots on the mooring lines thrown to him from the incoming boats, he doesn’t pay much attention to what actually occurred on the boat– but maybe he should.
Cannon, a boat hand at the Boston Harbor has been boating for four years after having learned from his family. Every day, he hears stories on accidents caused by alcohol and irresponsibility.
In 2015, 101 of 626 boating fatalities were caused by the use of alcohol or drugs, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Boating culture has always been evident through the term “freedom of the seas” and the lavish yacht parties constantly being featured in TV and film.
“Boating culture revolves around getting away with the unexpected,” said teenager Maddi Michael, 16. “The freedom of the seas allows teenagers in specific to drink and party”.
Another cause of boating accidents is the lack of responsibility according to former federal safety inspector Bill Gossard. Massachusetts state law does not require boat operators to have licenses. Children aged 12 to 15 must simply take a basic course to be able to drive a boat without adult supervision. Anyone 16 or older can get on a vessel and set sail immediately.
“There are safety boating classes offered by a number of different corporations even in Massachusetts by a lot of people. [These classes] are in place right now but they are not required,” said former sea captain David Cox. We’ve been trying to encourage anyone who has a boat to take one of these courses and pass it to get a certificate that allows them to operate [a boat]”.
According to Ron Walsh these classes are having a great impact on the young drivers.
“More people are becoming aware of the rules of the road. The biggest age group of people involved range from 36 to 55. The younger boat operators have become more aware because of the required education,” said Walsh.
The problem with boating culture is that there are no limits. There is nothing that defines any type of restrictions. There are restrictions on alcohol- but only for being drunk, not for drinking. There is no requirement for boating experience or education for anyone over age 15 to legally operate a boat. Children 12 and under must wear life vests at all times but anyone over the age of 12 is off the hook. Boaters have always been more laid back than car drivers. Boat safety advocates ask, should the captain and guests be allowed to drink on board even though drinking while driving is illegal?
“It’s silly how boating and driving have very different prerequisites but when it comes to BUIs and DUIs the consequences are almost identical,” said Michael.
In the 21st century boating is a sign of wealth and independence. When things go wrong, it’s up to the Coast Guard to fix it. However, due to the increase in boating culture, they cannot always keep up.
“There are currently 135,000 boats registered in Massachusetts. The waters are more congested now and people can’t get away with the same actions as before” said Walsh.