Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

How Does Alcohol Use Affect Boat Operators and Passengers

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

how does alcohol use affect boat operators and passengers

We always hear about how drinking alcohol before or while operating a vessel or any vehicle should be avoided. It is even discouraged to drink while on a boat. But how does alcohol use affect boat operators and passengers?

Having an amount of alcohol in your system can affect your judgment and sense of balance, both of which are important for anyone on a boat. Let’s dig a bit deeper into this.

Keep reading to learn more.

Dangerous Effects of Alcohol


Alcohol consumption brings about certain effects on a person. As a substance, it causes bodily functions to slow down, which can result in three main things; a loss of balance, slowed reaction, and impaired judgment.

It can also disrupt a person’s ability to recognize stimuli and interfere with their depth perception, which is essential when operating a vehicle. Even discerning directions as simple as up or down may be impacted, which can lead to dangerous circumstances. This is why boating while intoxicated is prohibited.

Combined with sun exposure and a water environment, alcohol is considered more potent on a boat than when consumed on land. Below is how alcohol affect you while you’re operating a boat or boarding it.

1. Slower reaction and reflex

Consuming alcohol results in people having a slower reaction due to stimulus from the five senses being transmitted at a slower pace when intoxicated. This makes it difficult to react quickly, which is extremely important, especially for boat operators who may have just a few seconds to react in extreme situations.

A slower reaction time, coupled with additional stress due to alcohol, is compared to the effect of using drugs. Since alcohol is considered a depressant, intake may result in sleepiness or sluggishness. This is very problematic for anyone operating a boat and for a passenger in certain emergencies.

2. Impaired judgment

For many people, intoxication results in lowered inhibitions resulting in a tendency to be more daring. In boating, safety is always a priority, as even small mistakes can result in fatal repercussions. Since being drunk causes impulsiveness, this effect of alcohol while boating makes it easy for people to underestimate certain risks.

As an operator, putting the boat in danger means putting passengers at risk. Not to mention, there can be possible damage or injury in case of a collision with other vessels.

3. Sense of balance

When on a boat, it is important to keep your balance as there is the risk of falling overboard, which must be avoided at all times. When out sailing, keeping your balance becomes even more challenging whether you’re operating a boat or just a passenger.

A person is impacted by drinking alcohol where they may end up having trouble walking straight or even standing still. Even when the boat is anchored or docked, it is still not as stable as the ground, and an intoxicated person is at greater risk than someone sober.

Alcohol Legality and Liability

It is illegal to drink and drive, whether the vehicle is a car or a boat. People boating under the influence will be fined or even imprisoned if accidents happen.

Such penalties differ between states and countries though it is better to assume that it is always illegal to avoid getting into trouble.

In the US, being caught may result in your license being revoked, in addition to the earlier stated penalties.

Drinking Legally

While it is not recommended to drink and drive, others on a boat may have one to two servings of a standard drink. The amount prescribed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as standard is 12 ounces of a 5% alcohol drink or 1.5 ounces of a 40% alcohol drink. If planning to operate a boat, allow for at least an hour of rest for every serving before setting out.

Frequently Asked Questions


What other risks are there to drinking alcohol while boating?

Drinking may cause seasickness to worsen. If you know that you are at risk of getting seasick, try to avoid alcohol, or the trip may get even worse.

What happens when you are caught boating under the influence?

In such a situation, the trip is halted, and the boat is brought back to shore or the dock. It is also possible for the boat to be impounded.

Is the limit of 1 to 2 drinks per person absolute?

The limit for each person may differ based on many factors, including gender and age. While some people may be able to drink more and not be intoxicated, 1 to 2 drinks are considered the standard for responsible drinking.

Aside from abstaining, this is the best way to stay out of trouble as far as the law is concerned.


Now you know why alcohol should be avoided whether you’re operating a boat or just a passenger. If anyone asks, “how does alcohol use affect boat operators and passengers?”, let them know the risks and legal liabilities that drinking on a boat entails.

Remember to boat safely.

5/5 - (2 votes)