CORALVILLE LAKE, Iowa- The peak boating season in Iowa starts this weekend with the Memorial Day holiday. And a push in recent years to make things safer on the water appears to be having an impact.
Iowa law changed in 2011 to make boating while intoxicated the same standard as drunk driving— .08 blood alcohol content. In 2012, officers charged 95 people statewide with operating a boat while under the influence. But last year, that number dropped by almost half to just 56 arrests total.
Boaters say closer scrutiny is now the norm, especially for boating while intoxicated, and they’ve gotten the message.
Tom Plaht, who rents a boat slip at the Scales Bend Marina north of North Liberty, said many long time boaters have seen someone arrested and led away from dockside in handcuffs on an intoxication charge. That’s why many who have fun on the water these days don’t get carried away.
“I really don’t see that much alcohol out here (Coralville Lake) anymore. People still party but if they party they’re tied up at anchor,” Plaht said.
Plaht and other boaters said enforcement of drunken boating laws is different even though the blood alcohol limit for driving and boating is now the same. For instance, an open container is not, by itself, a violation out on the water.
Still, there is one big similarity. Many boaters now make sure they have a designated driver for the boat if the rest of the group plans to drink while out on the water.
Ken Miller, who just bought a house boat for the first time this year, said it’s almost as common now on the water to have a designated driver as it is on dry land.
“I think everybody wants to have their designated driver because the alternative is not much fun,” Miller said.
Another boater, Marty Menge, added “it’s so hard out there in the sun, the heat, to judge (your intoxication level). Different people — different body weights, two or three drinks you may be over the limit,” Menge said.
Menge said aside from a designated boat driver he’s also seen a trend to fewer night boating trips since the law change in 2011. One reason may be that’s when people would party a little harder. Now no one wants to risk it.
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