I’ll never tire from stressing the importance of outdoor safety because hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors is beneficial in a variety of ways.

Outdoor recreation brings people – old friends, new acquaintances, family – together. If you simply need time away from the stress at work or need to refocus, the outdoors is many times the remedy.

A little exercise walking to a favorite fishing spot, loading the boat or paddling a canoe down a quiet river can with the sun at your back provide some cardiovascular exercise, burn some calories, improve your overall health.

Yet, then I think of a preventable outdoor recreation injury or accident inspired by poor choice, such as boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and all the benefits become moot.

“Our goal, as always, is to make sure everyone gets home safely,” said Jackie Lundstrom, North Dakota Game and Fish Department enforcement operations supervisor. “No matter if you're boating or fishing. Making sure you return home safe and others enjoying the outdoors are as well.”

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According to Game and Fish enforcement records from 2015-19, there were 74 reported boating accidents, including 11 fatalities, five of which were alcohol-related deaths, and 45 injuries beyond first aid.

It’s no secret, Lundstrom said, that alcohol impairs judgment and reaction time, especially on the water, because of added stressors of heat, wind, wave action, noise and vibrations of the boat.

“Anytime you go out on the water you need to be prepared … you need to have food along and plenty of water to drink on a hot summer day,” she said. “Being prepared also entails having a float plan. If you are the only one on the boat who knows how to safely operate it, should you be drinking? The key is to have a sober driver to get everyone safely back to shore.”

Lundstrom said she started patrolling the Missouri River near Bismarck-Mandan in 1997 and has seen her share of boat operators who have had too much to drink on a summer day.

“The stigma that it’s OK to be drunk in your boat because you’re getting a ride by a sober driver home once you get on shore floors me,” she said. “There should be no difference in that mentality.”

To wit:

  • Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boating deaths and a major factor in accidents on the water.

  • Boating under the influence is illegal. Operating a boat in North Dakota with a blood alcohol concentration of .10 or higher is against state law.

  • Alcohol use is dangerous for passengers, too. Impairment can cause slips, falls overboard and other accidents.

  • If you boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol you are endangering your life and the lives of others.

  • Alcohol use impairs a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time.

  • Sun, wind, noise, vibration and rocking of the boat are all stressors common to the boating environment. These stressors intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs and some medications.

Make good choices when you head outdoors and turn a day on the water or in the field into one you’ll remember, not one you’d wish to forget.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. His email is dleier@nd.gov.