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Boats and beer: What are the rules of boating and drinking?

As the months get warmer, it's time for many Michigan residents to get out of the house and on to a boat. There may be nothing more relaxing than cruising across the lake in the summer heat, stopping periodically to take a plunge into the water. But can you also kick back with an icy cold beer on the boat? In Michigan, certain traditional rules of drinking and driving do not apply to boating. Understanding these rules may be the difference between enjoying a day on the lake and spending a night in jail.

Did you know that drinking alcohol on a boat is perfectly fine? There is no law prohibiting passengers or even the driver from being on a boat with an open container of alcohol. There are still rules, however, that boaters must follow to avoid an arrest.

While having a drink on a boat is fine, being drunk behind the wheel is still illegal. A driver can still be stopped and given field sobriety tests and breath tests to determine the level of impairment. An important distinction, however, is that a boat driver is not considered to be operating under the influence until he or she has a 0.10 blood-alcohol level. This is different from the traditional drunk driving level, which is 0.08 in Michigan.

Make no mistake, though, Coast Guard officials are on the lookout for reckless, dangerous or otherwise suspect driving behavior. A drunk driver may be a hazard on the water and put other people in danger. But because days on a boat may be long, leisurely excursions, it can be difficult to properly gauge how alcohol is affecting a person.

It is suggested that drinking alcohol in the hot summer sun can intensify the effects of alcohol. This can mean that even if you can typically have a few beers and not be intoxicated on land, that same amount can have a very different effect on the water.

Since the rules are a little different when it comes to drinking and boating, some people may have a false sense of leniency when it comes to their behavior on the water. This is not always the case. People can certainly be cited and arrested for unlawful actions in a boat and can find themselves brought back to shore in the company of police.

Source: mlive.com, "Boat Talk: Rules on drinking and boating different than drinking and driving," Heidi Fenton, May 26, 2012

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