Tougher Georgia Boating Under the Influence Law Is Making an Impact

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A more stringent law against boating under the influence in Georgia appears to be working, according to a statement from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office.

This is welcome news, considering that drinking alcohol while boating can significantly increase the risk of tragic accidents that result in personal injury or wrongful death.

In a preliminary report, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources found that there were 10 less BUI arrests over Memorial Day weekend than during the same period last year. Hopefully, this data indicates that fewer people are mixing boating with drinking.

In 2013, Georgia instituted a new law that changed the acceptable blood-alcohol concentration for boaters from 0.10 to 0.08, the same limit set for drivers of automobiles.

The law also increased penalties for violators and, beginning July 1, it requires certain boaters to take an approved safety course.

Georgia lawmakers pushed for a change to the BUI law in part due to two fatal boating accidents that occurred in 2012 that culminated in three deaths – all of them children. Nearly 200 people were arrested for BUI in Georgia that year.

A Closer Look at the Georgia Boat Safety Act

The Georgia Boat Safety Act applies to all sorts of watercraft, ranging from canoes and water skis to recreational boats and the largest ships. The main provisions are:

  • It is illegal for anyone under 21 to operate a boat with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.02 or higher.
  • It is illegal for anyone age 21 or older to operate a boat with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.
  • It is also a crime for those of all ages to operate a boat with any trace of marijuana or another controlled substance in his or her system, even drugs that the individual is legally entitled to use, if the use of that substance renders the individual incapable of operating the vessel in a safe manner.
  • It is illegal for an owner of a vessel to knowingly permit anyone to operate the vessel OR to manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, surfboard or similar device being towed by the vessel when the owner knows or has reason to believe that the person is intoxicated.

Penalties for violations vary and include fines or prison time. Additionally, intoxicated boaters can face an additional charge of child endangerment if they are found with a child under 14 in the vessel with them.

Alcohol and Open Water Can Be a Deadly Mix

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol is a contributing factor in nearly one-third of all recreational boating fatalities.

Many boaters do not realize that the effects of alcohol can be accelerated in a boat compared to a motor vehicle. The lulling motion, vibration, engine noise, sun and heat can all speed up impairment, which then leads to the same deficits that drunk drivers experience – reduced reaction time, poor judgment, less coordination and sleepiness, among others, the Coast Guard states.

The risk of injury or death does not only come from the danger of crashing into another boat or obstacle on the water. The inner ear impairments caused by alcohol can make it difficult for intoxicated people to distinguish up from down in the water, increasing the chances of drowning if they stumble and fall in.

Minimizing Risk on the Water

In the heat of a Georgia summer, there are fewer better places for water aficionados to be than out at sea or near a lake, pond or river.

We encourage you to never allow the operator of a boat you are traveling in to consume alcohol. Always make sure there is a designated driver.

Also, make sure all emergency equipment is in working order so that you can call for help if you do not feel capable of getting back to shore.

You should also have a life jacket on the boat for each passenger aboard the vessel.

Additionally, starting July 1, anyone born after Jan. 1, 1998 is required to take a boat safety course approved by the Department of Natural Resources before operating a vessel.

Even if this law does not apply to you, we encourage you to take a course in order to brush up on your safety skills.

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