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Accid Anal Prev. 2001 Mar;33(2):257-65.

Effects of low-dose alcohol exposure on simulated merchant ship piloting by maritime cadets.

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  • 1Boston University School of Public Health, MA 02118, USA.


The US Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates on-the-job alcohol use by operators of certain categories of commercial transport. For aircraft, trains, and commercial vessels, operators are subject to sanctions for having > or = 0.04 g% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This study examines the effects of alcohol (between 0.04 and 0.05 g% BAC) on simulated merchant ship handling. A two-group randomized factorial design was used to compare beverage alcohol to placebo while controlling for baseline performance on a previous day. The study was conducted in the Maritime Simulation Center at Maine Maritime Academy, Castine, ME. Participants were 38 volunteer deck officer cadets in their junior or senior year, at least 21 years of age, with previous experience on a bridge simulator. Following a baseline trial on Day 1, on Day 2 participants were randomized to receive alcohol (0.6 g/kg for males and 0.5 g/kg for females) or placebo. After allowing time for absorption, participants completed a bridge simulator task. For baseline and performance trials, participants were randomized to one of four bridge simulator scenarios, each representing passage of a fully loaded container vessel through a channel with commercial traffic. The aggregate scenario score given by blinded maritime educators measured performance. A main effect for alcohol was found indicating that performance was significantly impaired by this low dose of alcohol relative to performance in the placebo condition. These findings are consistent with current federal regulations that limit low-dose alcohol exposure for the operators of commercial transport vehicles. Further research is required to determine effects at lower BACs.

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