Monday, April 1, 2013

Alcohol and Boating on Lake Wedowee....What You Need to Know

Alcohol and Boating on Lake Wedowee....
What You Need to Know

News to Kniw
by Kelly Caldwell
Photo by Clayton Parker

Lake Wedowee Life will be exploring different aspects of how voting to legalize the sale of alcohol has impacted Randolph County. This is the second in a three part series.

When the citizens of Randolph County voted to legalize alcohol sales in November, one of the first questions asked by seasonal visitors to Lake Wedowee was what does this mean to us on the lake this summer?
Well it changes things. A person boating on a body of water in a dry county is not permitted to have alcohol on board the vessel. Not to say that it didn't happen on Lake Wedowee...
"I am not sure that it is going to change a whole lot," Barry Popham, Alabama Marine Police Officer, said. "Even though this will be the first summer you can buy alcohol in Randolph County, it certainly has been on Lake Wedowee before now."

Now that Randolph County has changed its status concerning alcohol, what is legal on Lake Wedowee has changed as well. 

"I thought the law was the same on a boat as it is for a vehicle on the road," Randolph County Sheriff David Cofield said. "But, its not. There is no open container law for vessels on waterways  like there is for vehicles on roadways."

So in other words, you can have alcohol on your boat, but law enforcement does encourage using a designated driver because boating under the influence is treated just as seriously as driving under the influence.  Specifically, it is illegal to be in physical control of any vessel (including personal watercraft), water skis, or any similar device if the operator:
· Has a concentration of alcohol in his or her blood of 0.08% or more or
· Is under the influence of:
Alcohol, any controlled substance or drugs or
· Any combination of alcohol, controlled substances or drugs or
· Any substance which impairs the operator's mental or physical faculties.
     Alabama law establishes the following penalties for those arrested and convicted of boating under the influence:

On the first offense, a fine from $600 up to $2,100 and/or sentence of one year in jail, and suspension of his or her operator's certification/license for 90 days
On the second offense, a fine from $1,100 up to $5,100 and/or sentence of up to one year in jail with a mandatory sentence of not less than 5 days or community service for not less than 30 days, and suspension of his or her operator's certification for one year
On the third offense, a fine from $2,100 up to $10,100 and/or sentence of up to 1 year in jail with a mandatory sentence of not less than 60 days, and suspension of his or her operator's certification for three years.

Anyone over the age of 21 convicted of BUI who has a child under the age of 14 present in the vessel at the time of the offense shall be sentenced to double the minimum punishment that the person would have received if the child had not been present on the vessel.

Boating under the influence also applies to skiers or anyone being towed behind the vessel.
"Yes I have arrested people for BUI while skiing," Popham said. "Mixing alcohol and skiing is asking for trouble. You take more risks when you are impaired and while accidents happen, alcohol is a factor in most cases."

Sheriff Cofield and Officer Popham are both interested to see how the change in law effects Lake Wedowee.

"We know alcohol has always been on this lake, but the ease of access could make for an interesting season," Cofield said. "But, it could not have a discernible impact.
"So far with the legal availability of alcohol in Randolph County, we have not noticed an increase in DUI arrests here."

Consider these alternatives to using alcohol while afloat:
Take along a variety of cool drinks, such as sodas, water, iced tea, lemonade or non-alcoholic beer.
Bring plenty of food and snacks.
Wear clothes that will help keep you and your passengers cool.
Plan to limit your trip to a reasonable time to avoid fatigue. Remember that it's common to become tired more quickly on the water.
If you want to make alcohol part of your day's entertainment, plan to have a party ashore at the dock, in a picnic area, at a boating club, or in your backyard…. Choose a location where you'll have time between the fun and getting back into your car or boat.
If you dock somewhere for lunch or dinner and drink alcohol with your meal, wait a reasonable time (estimated at a minimum of an hour per drink) before operating your boat.
Having no alcohol while aboard is the safest way to enjoy the water — intoxicated passengers are also at risk of injury and falls overboard.

Spread the word on the dangers of BUI. Many recreational boaters forget that a boat is a vehicle - and that safe operation is a legal and personal responsibility.


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