MADD Takes Aim Against Boozing and Boating

Times Staff Writer

Picture a gorgeous day in Dana Point Harbor. The sky is blue, the sun is warm, and you're gliding through the water in a powerboat, wheel in one hand, a beer in the other.

Take away the beer, says the Orange County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and it's a perfect picture.

Almost three years after MADD introduced its "designated driver" program aimed at preventing drunk driving, the chapter is attempting to extend its program to the waterfront, including Dana Point Harbor's restaurants, bars and three yacht clubs.

At MADD's urging, the Dana Point Harbor Assn. is printing special posters that will go up at the fuel dock, launching ramps and other places frequented by boaters telling them that if they are at the helm, they should not drink.

Dana Point is the first boating community in California to be targeted by such a campaign, MADD officials said. If MADD is successful in Dana Point, Newport Beach will be next, they said.

The dangers of drinking at a harbor can be twofold, said Sherry Metcalfe, president of the Orange County MADD chapter.

Skippers who stop in a bar for a drink before hitting the sea--or who imbibe on their vessels--are increasing their chances of having an accident, Metcalfe said. Unless skippers--not to mention others on a boat--plan to spend the night on the water, they still face a drive home, she said.

"The idea doesn't stop at the dock," she said. "It's until everyone gets home."

Under MADD's program, when a party of three or more orders at a participating restaurant or bar, one person is appointed "designated driver" and is entitled to free nonalcoholic drinks. In exchange, that person pledges to drive the others home.

"Most boaters are responsible," said Jody Tyson, president of the harbor association. "But if we can save just a couple of people, we've done our job."

Unlike driving, it is not against the law to have open containers of alcohol on a boat or even to drink while at the helm. It is, however, against the law to be intoxicated with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10% or more while operating a boat.

"So if you go from drink to drunk, yes, that's against the law," said Capt. Harry Gage of the Orange County Sheriff's Department's Harbor Patrol.

Commodores of Dana Point's three yacht clubs, with a membership of about 800, said they support boating safety, but they had mixed reactions to adopting MADD's program in their private restaurants and bars.

'Unique Situation'

John Watts of Dana Point Yacht Club said his board of directors has agreed to participate, but he is unsure how the program will be applied inside his clubhouse. "We've got a unique situation. Our people mostly come in as singles or couples. It's not like a public restaurant, with big parties," he said.

"I know there is a lot of drinking aboard boats," he said.

But he added that he believes boaters do not drink more than do other groups.

Dana West Yacht Club will not participate in the program, although the club will put up posters and hand out information about sobriety aboard boats, Commodore Craig Rahn said.

Since Dana West is a private club, there already is "a lot more control" over drinkers, Rahn said. If a member is intoxicated, the bartender or friends in the club make sure he does not drive or take the helm of a boat, Rahn said.

The yacht club already offers soft drinks for 50 cents and coffee for a quarter--and the non-alcoholic beverages are free to people who need to sober up, he said.

The designated driver program is under consideration at the smallest club, Capistrano Bay Yacht Club, which is open only on weekends, Commodore Wolfgang Schimanski said.

But Schimanski said the club is family-oriented and already stocks lots of alcohol-free drinks. Members will take a person home who has had too much to drink, he said. Still, a member was arrested recently for drunk driving "and it opened our eyes," he said.

Not Major Problem

While not discounting MADD's efforts, the Harbor Patrol said boozing and boating have not been a major problem at Dana Point, Newport or Huntington harbors. Last year, there were seven arrests at the three harbors for operating a boat while intoxicated, Gage said. However, he said, such arrests usually are made only when there has been an accident or "wildly erratic" behavior.

In Orange County in 1984, five people were killed late one night when a boat piloted by Virl Earles ran into an unlighted buoy in Anaheim Bay, off Seal Beach. Earles and three others survived. Earles was found to be intoxicated and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He is appealing the conviction.

The accident led to a state law establishing a blood-alcohol level for intoxicated boat operators.

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