The arrest of a South Shore boater apparently so drunk that he failed to realize two of his passengers were overboard until he was too far away to see them seems comical because the story had a happy ending of sorts. This incident is just another reminder that -- unlike with drunken driving -- society hasn't yet achieved a consensus that drunken boating is wrong; nor is there a real fear of getting caught.
Nassau County police charged Anthony J. Marmo of Seaford with boating while intoxicated -- after he called the Coast Guard on Sunday to get help. Fortunately, two sharp lifeguards on Jones Beach spotted the two men who had gone overboard and rowed out to save them.
Increased enforcement of intoxicated-boating laws is leading to more arrests; Marmo's is the fifth this season in Nassau County. But that statistic represents a fraction of the problems on the waterways. In Suffolk last month, a West Islip fisherman died in the early morning when his boat was struck off Captree Island by a high-speed muscle craft on the way home after a night out. The operator of that powerboat, too, is charged with BWI.
On land, a sustained crackdown on drunken driving has lowered arrest statistics while raising awareness of the dangers. But there isn't parallel progress on the water, where about one in five fatal accidents is alcohol related, according to state officials. The U.S. Coast Guard reports a similar ratio. And the numbers are increasing nationally, leading to a crackdown on lakes, rivers and intercoastal waterways. The reasons for the increased BWI problems are obvious yet difficult to reverse. Until there is an accident or distress call, how do you find and stop offenders on water? Some states are sending dramatic messages by staging sobriety checkpoints at narrow channels or dock areas.
The most effective approach to changing behavior may be to change the image of alcohol and boating. For many, it's the essence of summer fun -- friends and family in bathing suits, a well-stocked cooler onboard.
That picture ignores the dangers lurking ahead.