How many drinks can a 250-pound high-performance powerboat driver consume in one hour and still be able to safely operate the boat? Don't bother looking up the answer in a blood-alcohol level table, because it's a trick question. The answer is zero. And that's not just our take at speedonthewater.com—that comes directly from Tres Martin, the world's foremost performance boat driving instructor.
"There is no amount of drinking whatsoever that goes with boating," says Martin, the founder of the Performance Boat School that bears his name. "I tell everybody that. Especially with the way performance boats are today, with all the skills that need to be ready at hand and all that is going on around you when you're out on the water, there is no margin for error. You need all of your faculties and skills as good as they can possibly be, and any alcohol compromises those skills. You want to be at your very best—at your highest level—when you're operating a performance boat, or any boat for that matter.
"To be honest with you, even drinking the day before—even though you might not feel drunk or that your skills are impaired—will take away your mental sharpness," he added. "You want to be functioning at your highest level with zero impairment when you're driving a performance boat."
But your passengers can drink to their hearts' content, right? Wrong again.
"Obviously, you are responsible for everyone in your boat," says Martin. "If someone does something goofy like try to put a foot between your boat and the dock when you're coming in, and that person loses a foot, you are responsible."
While that's an almost-worst-case scenario, a drunken crewmember can be a major liability when you need all hands on deck in common situations such as a tight docking. The last thing you want is a guy who had one too many to slip, fall and end up on his back or in the water as he tries to scamper across the deck of your boat to throw or catch a line. Like Martin, we've seen that happen more than once. Better to stop the problem before it starts and insist that everyone on board stays sober until the boating day is done.
Martin says that thanks to the rush of fresh air and sunlight that often come with the go-fast boat experience, operators and passengers with alcohol in their systems can feel "refreshed" and fall into a false sense of security.
"You feel the sun and the wind on your face while you're underway, and all of the sudden you feel like you haven't even been drinking," he says. "And what does alcohol do to your body? It dehydrates you. So the first thing you do is reach for another drink."
The days of boating under the influence being shrugged off by law enforcement—and insurance companies—are long gone. The legal and financial ramifications are significant, and getting more so.
"If you are convicted of BUI, a lot of states will take your driver's license away," says Martin. "If you get convicted of BUI, you will no longer have high-performance powerboat insurance and you won't be able to replace it. Nobody wants to insure anyone who has that on his or her record. And if you have an accident while you're under the influence, most policies will deny your coverage. They have to cover third-party liability, of course, but you sure won't be getting a new boat out of the deal."
Editor's note: Appearing biweekly on speedonthewater.com, "Tres Martin's Safety Corner" tackles a different aspect of high-performance powerboat safety in each installment. (Above photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.)