I am on my way to Wedowee, AL to do some night fishing with my father and sons. We just place a large floating light off the dock, rig the minnow reels, and watch the bobbers drop. It’s a lot of fun.
Taking boat rides is a lot of fun too. However, all too often, the boat operator likes to have a few beers as he or she strolls the lake. This can be very dangerous. There are criminal penalties associated with some boating activities when alcohol is involved too.
I am giving you a very condensed nutshell version of current law in Georgia regarding Boating Under the Influence (BUI). Some of these provisions apply in other states, like Alabama. But, this is Georgia specific.
In Georgia, it is against the law to operate any moving vessel while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, whether illegal or prescription, to the extent that it is less safe for the person to do so. Like Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charges, in Georgia a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) charge carries heavy fines and penalties that can have a significant impact on your life.
O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12 (a) states that “no person shall operate, navigate, steer, or drive any moving vessel, or be in actual physical control of any moving vessel, nor shall any person manipulate any moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard, or similar moving device while [under the influence of alcohol, drugs, a combination of alcohol and any drug, marijuana, glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor] …” This shows that BUI laws apply to all types of watercrafts including motor boats, sailboats, jet skis, water skis, and surf boards.
It is also against Georgia BUI law for any person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be “0.08 grams or more at any time within three hours after such operating, navigating, steering, driving, manipulating, or being in actual physical control of a moving vessel, moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard, or similar moving device from alcohol consumed before such operating, navigating, steering, driving, manipulating, or being in actual physical control ended.” O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12(a)(4). This is also very similar to DUI law in Georgia. (Under 21 boaters have a threshold limit of 0.02.)
Unlike traffic stops in vehicles; law enforcement officers do not need any reason to stop a person's vessel on a waterway. In Georgia, safety checks are permitted on boats without any probable cause of any criminal wrongdoing.
The penalties for A BUI in Georgia include boating privileges being suspended, a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine not less than $500 nor more than $1,000, and possible jail time. A second offense within five years is a high and aggravated misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine not less than $1,000 nor more than $1,500. Each conviction will extend the period of suspension by an additional six months. There are other penalties as well that are similar to DUI convictions.
However, keep in mind that A BUI will not suspend or have any effect of a person's Georgia driver's license or privileges to drive in this state. Only a person's boating privileges can be suspended due to a BUI.
There are also terrible accidents on lakes throughout the southeast where alcohol is involved. Needless to say, these incidents can result in felony charges with significant prison time.
One of the problems with having a “designated operator” and multiple people drinking on the boat is the operator may get tired, seasick, or just want to stop operating the boat. The, someone else has to step in and take over. Who knows if that person has been drinking?
Common sense, necessary precautions can alleviate most of these problems.
So, enjoy the lake this summer in a safe manner with friends and family. I plan on catching about 30 fish tonight before I go to bed.
But, when taking boat rides, either have a solid plan or leave the adult beverages on the dock for later in the day.