Taking Your Boat Out? Remember These New Michigan Boating Laws!
After a long, cold winter, we’ve finally reached the time of year where the weather is perfect for spending a day at the beach or spending a day out on the water on your boat. But if you’re planning on taking your boat out for a ride this summer, be sure to keep in mind that there have been some changes made to Michigan’s recreational boating laws since last summer.
Back in December, Governor Rick Snyder approved new legislation which lowered the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels legally allowed for people operating a boat, snowmobile, or off-road vehicle from 0.1 to 0.8. The new law brings the legal limit in line with what it currently is for drivers of cars and other motor vehicles on the road.
The new laws also make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to be operating a boat, snowmobile, or off-road vehicle with any amount of alcohol in their system. Boat operators who refuse to take a sobriety test will be facing an operating ban of one year, increased from six months. Operating a boat while intoxicated with a passenger who is 16 years old or younger is now considered a misdemeanor violation.
The new laws were introduced by State Representative Matt Lori (R-Constantine), who was inspired to reform Michigan’s drunk boating laws following a 2005 boating accident in Cass County where seven-year-old Ryan Zielinski was killed by a drunk boater who ran over the child’s innertube. Because of the discrepancy between the legal BAC levels for driving and for boat operators, the operator of the boat wasn’t punished as harshly as he would have been if he had been a drunk driver on the road.
“This is common-sense legislation that will save lives. Families with young children on the water have enough to worry about without adding drunken watercraft operators to the mix,” Lori said of the new laws. The bills Representative Lori introduced were passed unanimously in Michigan’s House of Representatives and Senate.
If you’re going to be taking your boat out on the water, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol all together. Alcohol and boating are a bad combination for the exact same reasons why alcohol and driving are a bad combination: it slows your reflexes and impairs your judgement. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol usage was the 7th highest contributing cause of recreational boating accidents and the biggest contributing cause to boating fatalities in 2012. During that year, alcohol was involved in 280 boating accidents, 109 deaths, and 227 injuries.
Even if you’re going out on a boat just as a passenger, it’s best to limit your alcohol consumption. Since alcohol can impair your judgement and your balance, drinking can make it more likely for you to accidentally fall off the boat.
Whether you’re planning to drink during your big day out on the water or not, be sure to wear a life jacket in case you accidentally find yourself in the water. Life jackets save lives and you might not have time to put one on before you wind up in the water. In the majority of fatal boating accidents where a person drowns to death, the person was not wearing a life jacket when they went into the water.