What Not to Drink When Kayaking

by Guest Blogger … Carole Ann Moleti

We all know it’s dangerous to drive under the influence of alcohol and other substances such as prescription or illegal drugs, which impair an individual’s ability to operate a vehicle or react to an unexpected hazard. Shouldn’t DUI laws apply to boaters in motorized crafts who require the same skills to navigate waters crowded with vessels of many types and sizes? How about those of us out for a day of kayaking, where the only power source is a pair of arms?

No one pushes off the beach or banks expecting to have an accident. But hazards in natural environments come in many forms–wind, lighting, currents, submerged rocks and debris to name a few. What begins as a beautiful sunny day can quickly turn very nasty–often when you’re far from safe harbor. Other boaters might not see, yield to, or fail to avoid a kayaker. Staying alert and wearing a life vest is your best defense against injury.

According to statistics compiled by the Recreational Boating Accident Report Database (BARD), careless/reckless operation, operator inattention, no proper lookout, operator inexperience, and passenger behavior rank as the top five primary contributing factors to boating accidents in all types of crafts. It’s easy to imagine the possible scenarios.

Seven out of ten deaths occurred in boaters operating crafts less than 21 feet. Over 2/3 of fatalities were caused by drowning and of those, 90% were not wearing a life jacket.


According to the US Coast Guard, and not surprisingly, alcohol use is listed as the lead contributing factor in 17% of fatal boating accidents. But, how much is too much? Standard blood alcohol measurements define one can of beer, one glass of wine, or one shot of 80 proof liquor as one drink. After two drinks, the average individual’s blood alcohol level will be high enough to cause impairment of alertness, judgment, coordination, and concentration. After three belts, reasoning, depth perception, peripheral vision and glare recovery are affected. Even after one drink a person might appear normal, but specialized tests can detect subtle effects.

Alcoholic beverages cause dehydration by halting the body’s production of anti-diuretic hormone. You urinate more, thus speeding up the loss of fluid from the body. More insulin is secreted, lowering blood sugar levels. This leads to shakes, excess sweating, dizziness, blurred vision, and tiredness.

Alcohol also attacks stores of vitamins and minerals, which need to be in the correct balance for the body to function normally. Electrolyte imbalances result in thirst, muscle cramps, and fainting.

Add to all that normal fluid loss due to perspiration and sun exposure, which can lead to weakness, dizziness, fatigue, and disorientation–all symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. What if you jump over the side to cool off, fall out, or capsize and hit your head? You could become another statistic, particularly if you’re using a life vest as a seat cushion or back rest.

So what should you drink while kayaking? Sports beverages are an option to replace electrolytes lost by perspiration. But they contain sugar and chemicals you don’t need and have no nutritional value.

Snacks that contain some salt and carbohydrates: pretzels, trail mix, nuts, peanut butter (the tiny institutional packets are light and easy to eat with the tip of your tongue), granola or energy bars are a better option, washed down with plain water. Allow at least one liter per person for a full day trip in mid-summer.

Energy drinks, most sodas, coffee and many teas are loaded with caffeine which can also act as a diuretic when consumed in large amounts.

Illegal drugs are, well, illegal. Check with a pharmacist to be sure prescription or over the counter medications for colds, allergies, or aches and pains do not cause drowsiness and are not affected by increased exposure to heat and sunlight.

Always remember to pack out what you carry in. Fish, sea mammals, birds, and other creatures will investigate and ingest anything that seems interesting, sometimes becoming entangled, poisoned, or obstructed. I’ve found cans on the beach at low tide filled with mud and dead fish and crabs trapped inside. Pick up bottles, cans and other debris to keep the settings you visit pristine and safe for wildlife. Hats, sunscreen, and insect repellant are important too, but that’s the topic of another article.

Get high on nature, buzzed by the flora and fauna, drunk on the beauty of natural wonders. Kayaking under the influence is dangerous. Leave the beer, wine, Long Island Iced Tea and hard lemonade in the cooler ashore–as long as someone else is driving home.

(The author, Carole Ann Moleti is a family nurse practitioner in New York City who writes about many health and safety topics. She spends her winters sliding down steep, icy Northeastern slopes and summers on the lakes, rivers, beaches, and bays of Long Island Sound, upstate New York, and Cape Cod. With her inflatable Sea Eagle 370, there’s no limit to the places she can go.)