GRAND HAVEN, MICH. - The members of the United States Coast Guard work every day to protect Americans from tragedy on the water. It's one of the reasons we're honoring them during the annual Coast Guard Festival.
They say one of the best ways to prevent accidents is to boat responsibly. That means if you're going to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, you shouldn't be the person operating the boat.
As part of our visit to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Grand Haven, we talked to crew members about how people can stay safe on the water. They say avoiding alcohol while boating is one of the biggest rules.
"Everybody deserves the right enjoy Michigan's beautiful waterways in a safe environment," said Senior Chief Justin Olson.
"Mother Nature always throws environmental factors at you, so you already have to be on your game," he continued. "If you choose to drink on a boat, we request that the operators do not. We don't want anyone to get hurt because they're boating under the influence."
Olson said boating under the influence is the same threshold for alcohol content as driving a car. So if your blood alcohol level is at .08, you're intoxicated. But boating under the influence can be even more dangerous because of experience and environmental factors.
"A lot of people don't understand that driving a vehicle, you have muscle memory," Olson said.
"You drive a vehicle every day of your life since you're 16 years old. In Michigan and a lot of places all over the country, you don't have that much experience driving your boat. A lot of people are experienced boaters. They've been driving their boat for 20 or 30 years, but it's seasonal," he continued. "It's only in the summer and they're not doing it as much, so that muscle memory is not really there."
Along with avoiding alcohol, Olson stressed the importance of wearing a life jacket at all times when boating.
"A lot of people assume that they'll be able to put their life jacket on in an emergency, and a lot of times it doesn't happen. It's too quick -- and by the time you start thinking about it, it's already too late."
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