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Safety Alert: Labor Day Holiday Means More Traffic on Alabama Lakes, More Boaters Under the Influence of Alcohol

Sep 02, 2015 | Alcohol Injury

Whether skiing on Smith Lake, chasing bass and crappie on Neely Henry or renting a cabin beside Logan Martin, thousands of Alabamians will take advantage of the long Labor Day weekend to spend time with friends and family near the water.

During a holiday weekend at the lake, Alabama residents may run into much more boat traffic, requiring extra caution to avoid accidents and the potential for injury. Basic safety measures such as wearing life jackets and avoiding other boaters can keep a prevent a mishap from turning into a serious boating accident.

Alabama reported 71 boating accidents in 2014, injuring 53 people and claiming the lives of 13 victims, according to the latest U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics recreational boating report. The accidents caused $672,100 in property damages.

In the last five years, 2010 saw the most accidents in Alabama with 90, causing 20 deaths. The number of boating mishaps leveled off to an average of more than 69 over the last four years, with nearly 15 people killed annually on Alabama waters.

Considering almost all boating accidents can be prevented, Alabamians need to rededicate themselves to focusing on safety.

Leading Causes of Boating Accidents

The 10 main contributing factors to recreational boating accidents are:

  • Operator inattention
  • Operator inexperience
  • Improper lookout
  • Excessive speed
  • Alcohol use
  • Machinery failure
  • Navigation rules violations
  • Hazardous waters
  • Weather
  • Force of wave/wake

Fatal Causes

  • Nationwide, 78 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned.
  • 84 percent of those drowning victims weren’t wearing a life jacket.
  • Only a fourth of deaths took place on boats where the operator had taken boating safety instruction. Twelve percent of fatalities occurred when the boat operator held a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.
  • Eighty percent of drowning victims were on vessels less than 21 feet long.
  • Vessels with the most accidents were open motorboats, 47 percent, personal watercraft, 17 percent, and cabin motorboats, 15 percent.
  • Vessels with the highest percentage of deaths are: Open motorboats— 47 percent, Canoes— 13 percent, and Kayaks— 10 percent.

Alcohol Common Factor in Boating Accidents

Alcohol consumption is the biggest contributing factor in boating fatalities, playing a role in 108 deaths on waterways nationwide in 2014, according to the Coast Guard.

In Alabama, alcohol use was a contributing factor in three boating accidents last year, and those killed three people.

Anyone suspected of boating under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance in Alabama must submit to a field breath test or other approved test for blood-alcohol concentration, according to

Alabama has tough penalties for anyone convicted of boating while intoxicated:

  • First offense: Fine of up to $2,100 and/or sentence of a year in jail and suspension of operator’s license for 90 days.
  • Second offense: Fine of up to $5,100 and/or jail sentence up to one year with mandatory sentence of five days community service and suspension of operator’s certification for one year.
  • Third offense: Fine of up to $10,100 and/or sentence of up to year in jail with mandatory sentence of 60 days, and suspension of operator’s license for three years.

Licensing Requirements

Alabama began licensing boat operators in July 1997. Under the Boating Safety Reform Act, anyone operating a boat on Alabama waterways must be at least 12 years old and licensed. All applicants are required to take a written test, except those who turned 40 before April 28, 1994 or have completed boating courses through the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Power Squadron or the Alabama Marine Police.

The vessel class “V” must be added to the license of anyone who plans to operate a motorized vessel. Applicants can take tests at Department of Public Safety Driver License Offices statewide.

Those who are under 14 and hold a Vessel Learner License are to be accompanied by a Vessel Licensed driver who is at least 21.

Put Safety First

As you prepare for your boat outing, follow these tips before and after hitting the water:

  • Make a float plan and leave it with a friend to ensure someone knows where you’re going in case of an accident. Put down boat information, destination and names and addresses of those going.
  • Carry plenty of flotation devices to ensure everyone has one. Make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket while on the water.
  • Avoid boating collisions by going a safe speed and staying a safe distance away from other boats and skiers.
  • Check the weather forecast and keep an eye out for approaching storms to avoid getting caught in a dangerous situation.
  • Avoid risky activity such as pulling water skiers close to ramps, swimmers and other boats.
  • Do not operate a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating accident caused by another operator’s failure to follow safety rules, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact an experienced Birmingham boat accident injury lawyer to discuss your legal options.