The body of a New Jersey man was recovered from Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey this week. The driver of the pontoon boat that he was a passenger on has since been charged with boating under the influence.
This past weekend, 24-year-old Jason Gill of Mr. Arlington was a passenger on a pontoon boat operated by Nicholas Zarantonello, also 24-years-old and from Lake Hopatcong, the lake from which Gill’s body was recovered from. According to state police, Gill fell into the state’s largest fresh-water lake this past Saturday. Although a search started that evening, it was suspended due to poor visibility and lighting in the area.
Search operations continued on Sunday using a helicopter, side-scan SONAR sub-surface detection equipment, the State Police TEAMS Unit, and rescue boats from a nearby fire department. Gill’s body, however, was not recovered until Monday.
Zarantonello, the boat’s operator, has since been arrested, charged with boating under the influence, and has since been released from custody with a future court date.
The drowning took place in an area of the lake that had been under an advisory to avoid swimming because of high levels of harmful algae bloom. Boating, however, was not affected by the advisory.
It goes without saying that DUI laws exist to protect us and others on the road from drivers whose judgment and motor skills have been impaired as the result of alcohol and other intoxicants. The same logic can be applied to laws that prohibit operating a boat while under the influence; namely to protect ourselves and others on the water from boat operators whose judgment and motor skills have been impaired.
Don’t think that because it’s a boat out on the open water that drunk driving laws don’t apply to you.
Boating under the influence is treated in very much the same way as a DUI is treated here in California.
California Harbors and Navigation Code section 655 states in pertinent part:
(b) No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.
(c) No person shall operate any recreational vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more in his or her blood.
The Harbors and Navigation Code also provides a zero tolerance for aquaplanes and water skis.
What’s more, the penalties for boating under the influence in California are similar to those for a California DUI; up to six months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines and fees, and a California DUI school.
Unlike a California DUI, however, any prior boating under the influence or driving under the influence conviction will only enhance a future boating under the influence charge if the prior conviction occurred within seven years. If you are charged with a California DUI, any California DUI or BUI that occurred in the last 10 years will increase the penalties of the current DUI.
Also, while the passengers of vehicles cannot drink alcohol within the vehicle under California open container laws, passengers of boats can legally drink alcohol on the boat.
In addition to running the risk of getting arrested, charged and convicted, boaters need to also realize the danger to themselves and others when boating under the influence. There are no lanes, no rules of the road, just open water.