State Department of Natural Resources Capt. Robert McCullough says Lake Marion had three boating deaths in 2014 caused by alcohol.
“That’s three too many,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how dangerous boating while drinking alcohol can be, especially if you don’t have a designated driver. “
McCullough said tragic deaths of those like 50-year-old Bryant Boyce of Manning could likely have been avoided if a designated driver had been on the boat.
Boyce was killed in mid-June 2014 in the Orangeburg County side of Lake Marion, and Robert Davis was charged with felony boating under the influence. Their boat was coming back toward Clarendon County when it hit a marker and threw Boyce overboard, according to DNR reports.
Davis was released the day after his arrest on a $5,000 bond, according to the Orangeburg County Public Court Index. McCullough said other people were ejected from the boat, but faced non-life threatening injuries.
“The problem with boating and alcohol is that the beer and liquor affects you even more on the water,” McCullough said.
McCullough said that the wind and sun beating down on any body of water just exacerbates the effects of alcohol.
“In a normal setting when you’re drinking alcohol, at a house party or a club, you’re affected the normal way, typically,” McCullough said. “One beer equals one beer. One liquor drink equals one liquor drink.”
This is magnified on the lake, he said.
“When you’re out on the lake in the sun and the heat, especially, and you’re riding around in the boat with the wind on you, suddenly one beer acts like two, maybe even three,” McCullough said. “It’s almost like two-for-one.”
Intoxication is not the only factor amplified by the lake.
“Alcohol is a diuretic,” McCullough noted. “It takes water out of your system. It’s even more of a diuretic on the lake. Just like you get intoxicated more quickly, you get dehydrated more quickly.”
Both effects may take longer to realize, he added.
“What ends up happening is you get dehydrated and intoxicated and may not even realize it,” he said. “Two beers then affect you like four or five, and you think, ‘Oh, I’ve only had two, I can have more.’”
“You get a synergy effect,” he said.
NOT GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME
The recreational aspect of boating invites the use of alcohol, McCullough said. While he advises against alcohol use while boating, particularly excessive use, he advises those on the lake to always have a sober adult present to operate the boat should its occupants imbibe too much.
“One of the problems with boating and alcohol is that boaters think that because they’re doing a recreational activity that it should be fun, and that alcohol is fun so they can just drink,” McCullough said. “But they need to think first.”
He said boaters also look at the immense size of places like Lake Marion, the largest freshwater lake in the state, and think they will be fine.
“They think it won’t happen to them,” McCullough said. “The lake is big, but there are still hazards. You have a lot of other boaters out there.”
McCullough said that boating is also so different from driving that the two can’t be compared – whether the driver is intoxicated or not.
“You should never drive drunk, period,” he said. “But on the road, you have lines and stop signs and lights and other markers telling you exactly where to go. They can at least guide you. You don’t have that on the lake.”
“There are no lines on the water, and no speed limits on the lake,” he added. “You can’t consciously know that you’re going too fast or too slow, or that you’re crossing a lane. And added alcohol to that kind of uncertainty causes accidents, and people get hurt and die.”
FIRST THING TO GO
McCullough again notes that “drinking and driving anything is a bad thing,” but he said that people have less experience with driving a boat than they do with a car.
“Studies have shown that you lose the skills you learned most recently when you start drinking,” he said. “If you’ve been driving for 30 years, that’s one of the skills you’re not going to lose first. That’s why so many people seem to be able to function when they shouldn’t be able to on the road.”
“But when you drive a boat, that’s something you may have learned recently, and you certainly have less hours doing it because you don’t boat to work or to school or to the grocery store,” McCullough added. “Unless you’ve operated a boat every day for the last 30 years, just as you’ve driven, you’re not going to have that same type of experience.”
“I think it’s best to avoid alcohol while on the lake,” McCullough said. “But a designated driver should always be present, just in case. Again, that synergy effect just causes so many problems. Even if you don’t get hurt on the lake, it could affect your health adversely.”
McCullough said that DNR continues to ramp up efforts to stop drinking and boating on the lake.
“We are patrolling every day,” he said. “We are always doing safety inspections, always watching and making sure that boaters have the right equipment.”
“We make sure to help if anyone needs anything, and we’re looking for erratic behavior, or someone driving in an unsafe manner,” he added. “We look for anything that causes potential problems. We do that every day.”