Drinking boater whining won't float

Monday, April 28, 2008

Around the Iowa lakes, you hear some complaints surfacing about the legislative effort to pass a .08 blood alcohol limit for boaters.

"We just want to get out on the water and have a few beers, dude, and now The Man wants to take away our right to part-tay," it goes (you'll want to use a Jeff Spicolli accent on this, from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High.")

First of all, anyone who uses "party" as a verb should be behind bars for assault on the English language, and second:

Wah, wah, wah... Put a sock in it, Ahab.

Yeah, suuuuure Iowa doesn't need a reasonable law on drunk boating. You know, a whopping pleasure boat heavy as Godzilla with a big ol' Merc that could lift off the space shuttle tends to stop on a dime, and it's a snap keeping it in those handy traffic lanes that they mark out on the water for you.

Sheesh. Anyone who doesn't have water on the brain realizes the only thing wrong with a .08 boating law is that a few nitwits in the House blocked it from getting done to take effect in July.

Don't tell me we need to be worried that such a law will have a negative impact on local tourism - people who would come here just to get blitzed and roar drunkenly around the lake can stay away, and we are not going to miss them.

It isn't hard to deal with this, people. If you're old enough and you want to take a cooler out on the pontoon, knock yourself out. Lash yourself on board and go facedown in Margaritaville if that's your thing. Just take a pass if you're driving the S.S. Minnow. We ought to know that drill by now.

When the legislature lowered the blood alcohol limit for road driving back in 2003, they got in a lather and forgot to include other motor vehicles, plain and simple. It's high time to fix that error. Live with it.

The Coast Guard tells me that boat drivers with a blood alcohol level of .10 or better are more than 10 times as likely to get into a water accident. And the state says that last year, 20 percent of all boat accidents were known to involve drinking. Does that about wrap up the argument here, guys?

If not, maybe you'd like to explain your blubbering to the Brosnahan family of Perry. Remember them? That's the family who had their lives torn apart when a 31-year-old drunken beachboy rammed his speeding borrowed boat over the Brosnahans' at 2 a.m. on Okoboji, killing Michael Brosnahan, and seriously injuring his wife Jill before splitting the scene.

The driver got 10 years, I suppose he'll be out in five or less. Too bad it isn't so simple for the Brosnahans to get a second start.

And fellas, it's not just high-speed boat collisions that should worry us here.

I sat through my share of Red Cross water safety classes, and spent chair time lifeguarding at a couple of good-size lakes. But I had never seen a drowning victim until I started work reporting at Storm Lake.

One of my early assignments was to cover an incident off Vista Drive. When I got there, a man was sitting on a dock, shirtless, head in his hands, sobbing. A few feet away, a patrol boat was trolling for the body of his best buddy.

They had reportedly been fishing and drinking, and the victim had simply stepped off the front of the boat, sinking as his waders filled with water. The other guy was seemingly not in much better shape, and could not save him.

It was close to shore. Could have walked out.

I couldn't think of a thing to say to the survivor, so I didn't say anything. But I sure haven't ever forgotten.

Storm Lake is a different animal than Okoboji. It isn't quite the party-hard approach to water recreation. Perhaps that's why, as I'm told, some residents of the lakes to the north are looking to move into the new condos in Storm Lake if they ever get done, in search of a little calmer summer atmosphere.

I've seen a couple of close calls, usually involving jet skis, or a few boaters who wander too close to the swimming beaches at speed, and there is a capsize incident or two every summer - none of which necessarily involve impaired boating.

But why take the chance?

In fact, I'd support the legislature going a big step farther.

A new law in 2006 in Ontario calls for anyone caught drunk operating a boat to lose their road driver's privileges, too. Like the Iowa bill, the action emerged from a tragedy, the death of a Toronto boy killed by a drunk boater. An unsafe driver is unsafe driving anything, I figure. Let's put some deterrent teeth in our law, instead of pouring a polluted boater into his car, instead.

I also like the suggestions of the Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council - which include reducing speed for boats within 300 feet of shore and requiring boats to maintain a 100-foot distance from other crafts unless traveling at low speed. Thank goodness, our legislature did finally manage a mandatory life-jacket rule for boaters 13 and younger. Good common sense.

Okoboji has had the market cornered on dockside bars, where boaters can tie up and tie one on before returning to the water.

The new State Marina being built in Storm Lake, I'm told, will not serve or sell alcohol.

Storm Lake does now have one bar as close to the water as our new city-owned resort with doorside dock "parking", however.

Maybe we could hand the driver of a boating party arriving at King's Pointe a charm that could be exchanged for a free non-alcoholic drink in the bar, which would also let the staff know to look out for them. Just a thought.

To the complainers, look, no one is trying to kill your buzz. Come to the lake, have a ball, wooo-hooo y'all, and then get your whole crew home safe to party another day.

I've covered all the water fatalities I can handle. I don't need news that bad, people.

Don't like the law? Whining? Put a sock in it - it'll give you something healthier than usual to suck on.