It’s Not What You Think, alcohol may not be the most dangerous factor you have to contend with when you’re out on the water.
Studies estimate that as many as 20% of recreational boating fatalities are alcohol related. But surprisingly enough, alcohol may not be the most dangerous factor you have to contend with when you’re out on the water. Even if you completely swear off alcohol while in a boat, you’re still subject to environmental stressors. And as it turns out, environmental stressors may be even greater culprits when it comes to boating accidents.
What Are Environmental Stressors?
Boating is surprisingly hard on your body physically. Constant sun exposure is tiring in a number of ways: the heat dehydrates you, the constant glare makes it difficult to focus, and as the day wears on, your body has to expend extra energy to find off the sun’s radiation and protect you from getting burned. All of these factors make you physically tired, and the sun isn’t the only contributing factor. The up-and-down motion of the boat is also physically hard on your body. You may not be aware of it, but keeping your balance on a boat is a constant workout for your body. Over time, that effort wears you out. Finally, the noise of the wind, boat engines, and the shouting you need to do in order to be heard over both is also physically exhausting.
How Dehydration Contributes
When you’re in the sun, your body sweats to stay cool. That means you’re constantly losing fluids every hour you’re in the sun. If you’re not replacing those fluids at the same rate you’re losing them (and most people are not), you’re slowly getting more and more dehydrated as the day wears on. You may be familiar with an end-of-day headache after your boating trips – that’s your body telling you that it’s dehydrated and needs water. Dehydration makes you even more exhausted because your body needs to work harder to perform its essential functions, and it isn’t getting the fuel it needs to do it efficiently.
Why Exhaustion Matters
Environmental stressors and dehydration alone do plenty to impair your ability to operate a boat safely. When you’re tired, you make decisions based on how quickly you can return to shore, rather than on safety. You’re likely to skip safety checks and other processes that seem like too much trouble. Your eyes are tired and it’s harder to focus, impairing your vision on the water. Exhaustion actually causes a lot of the same problems that inebriation does: your judgment is impaired, your instinctual responses aren’t as quick, and you’re likely to dismiss safety precautions as unimportant. In short, exhaustion makes it far more likely that you’ll be in an accident.
Just Add Alcohol
So far, we’ve impaired your ability to operate a boat safely without ever cracking a can of beer. What happens when we add alcohol to the above factors? Everything gets a lot worse. Your liver needs energy and water to work efficiently, and because of the environmental stressors and dehydration, it’s short on both. That means it can’t process the alcohol you drink as quickly as it can normally, which means you can get far more impaired than usual on just a single beer. Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning you will have to urinate more frequently – losing more fluids, causing more dehydration.
The Final Straw
So far, so bad, but alcohol has one more piece of chaos to add to the pile. Your vision is compromised when you’ve been drinking. The sun is bouncing off the water, making it difficult to see even when you’re not inebriated, and your eyes are tired from having to focus in the glare all day. With alcohol, the problem gets worse: you lose peripheral vision, you have trouble focusing on multiple objects and distinguishing low contrast objects, and you have a compromised ability to tell red from green. With your impaired judgment and slow response time, by the time you see another boat in the path of yours, it may be too late to change course. Have a safe boating experience this summer, so stay safe out there – and drink lots of water.
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