Floating "Field Sobriety Tests" or "The Afloat Test Battery" Used by Law Enforcement During Boating While Intoxicated Arrests

As promised in my May 9, 2008 post, http://www.byebyedwi.blogspot.com
today I will post the battery of exercises known to law enforcement officers as "The Afloat Test Battery". This version of these exercises is cited in the manual aptly titled Boating While Intoxicated and published in December 1997 by the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve Training Center's Maritime Law Enforcement School in Yorktown Virginia.

Many of you have heard or seen examples of "field sobriety tests" that are conducted prior to arresting a driver for DWI on the street. You may have seen them on television or read about them when they were conducted during a celebrity DWI arrest. These are the roadside gymnastics that include the "follow the pen" exercises, walking down a line while touching heel to toe with your arms by your side, and standing on one leg with your arms by your side for half a minute.

If you think those exercises sound completely unrelated to one's ability to drive a car, wait until you read about the far-fetched "floating sobriety tests" employed on the water during BWI arrests. It strains reason to even call these things "tests", because there is no objective scoring criteria for the battery! It is entirely up to the subjective whim of the tester whether to arrest the driver or not. Here is the 6-part gauntlet of floating "tests":

1. The alphabet test.
2. The "25 to 1 Count".
3. The "Finger Count".
4. The "Palm Pat".
5. The "Finger to Nose".
6. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test.

It is noteworthy that most of these subjective exercises go unrecorded, so the ability of a boater to challege his actual performance on these exercises is severely limited. Most boating stops are not based upon probable cause that the driver committed a crime. The stops are typically for "routine" or "random" safety checks, light violations, or causing a wake in a no-wake zone.

So what does one's ability to say the alphabet without singing it, count backwards, count his fingers while rapidly moving them, pat his palms, touch his nose with his eyes closed, or follow a pen with eyes have to do with driving a boat safely? Not much is a logical answer....

Next in this series I will post the list of possible "indicators of impairment" for each of these floating exercises.

Mark Stevens





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