Throughout Georgia, you can find beautiful, scenic lakes and other waterways that provide recreational opportunities for family and friends to enjoy. Sometimes these gatherings involve alcohol; it's refreshing and allows responsible adults to relax and unwind momentarily from busy, stressful lives. Sometimes, however, one drink too much can happen, and that's when accidents are also more prone to happen. In rare but unfortunate cases, accidents related to being under the influence of alcohol, and in some cases drugs, can occur on Georgia waters, and when they do, the potential for catastrophe is astounding.
Five years ago, three boys died in boating accidents on Lake Lanier. Lake Lanier is about 1 hour northeast of Alpharetta, Georgia, and is one of the most popular lakes for recreational purposes in the southeast corner of the United States. Millions of visitors go there yearly to enjoy 700 miles of shorelines and boating activities. During the summer of 2012, Jake and Griffin Prince died after an intoxicated boater crashed into their family's boat. That same summer, but a month after the Prince boys' deaths, another boy, Kile Glover, was killed when a boater, not intoxicated, struck him. The latter death proves boating can be dangerous regardless if drinking or not, and the former testifies to the fact that intoxicated while operating a boat can double the dangers. Since those deaths, boating laws have changed slightly and enforcement has increased. This article provides a basic understanding of boating laws and what you need to know with regard to them if you are a boat operator.
Boat Operation Requirements
There are several requirements that must be fulfilled to operate a boat in Georgia: (1) education; (2) age; and (3) license.
Education. If you were born after January 1, 1998, then you are required to take an educational course on the operation of a motorized vessel in Georgia. Boating courses must be approved by Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division.
Age Requirements. Pretty much anyone can operate some form of water vessel in Georgia, but there are certain restrictions in place according to three specific age groups.
- If you are under the age 12, then you:
- may not legally operate a personal water craft (PWC) or any vessel 16 feet or longer, but
- may legally operate, if accompanied by an adult, a boat less than 16 feet in length and powered by a motor of 30 horsepower or less.
- If you are 12 to 15 years old, then you:
- may not legally operate any vessel 16 feet or longer, but
- may legally operate a PWC or vessel less than 16 feet if either accompanied by an adult or passed a boating education course.
- If you are the age 16 or older, then you may legally operate any boat or PWC on Georgia state waters if you meet the requirements of education and licensing.
License. Like driving a car, there are certain prerequisites needed in order to operate a boat. To operate a boat in Georgia, you must have a Georgia Certificate of Boat Registration and validation decals, except if it is a:
- Sailboat under 12 feet in length;
- Canoe, kayak, rowboat, and rubber raft that have no mechanical propulsion;
- Vessel operated exclusively on private ponds or lakes; or
- Vessel registered in other states but operating on Georgia waters for 60 days or less.
Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
The Georgia Boat Safety Act prohibits anyone from boating under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs. A BUI offense is much like a driving under the influence (DUI) offense with regard to BAC legal limit and the BAC testing.
BUI BAC Legal Limit. Though the legal limit for a long time had been 0.10 BAC, it is now the same for driving: 0.08% BAC. Unlike driving laws, however, there is no prohibition on open containers on a boat while operating it. Essentially, the latter lack of open container restriction means passengers can have alcoholic beverages on the boat while it is being operated without there being a problem with law enforcement. If the operator of a boat or PWC, however, is under the age of 21 years, then he or she is boating under the influence if BAC level is 0.02% or more.
Implied Consent. When you obtain a driver's license, you implicitly consent to a chemical test if arrested for a DUI. The same is true with a BUI. If you operate a boat or PWC on Georgia waters, you implicitly consent to a chemical test for alcohol or drugs upon request of a police officer. You have the right to refuse a field sobriety test, which would likely include a finger-to-nose test, or horizontal gaze nystagmus test, but you do not have the right to refuse to submit yourself to a Breathalyzer test, blood test or urine test.
Five Things to Remember about BUI in Georgia
- Unlike DUIs, multiple charges for BUIs do not result in a felony.
- Unlike DUIs, a legal authority may stop your boat and conduct a routine safety check without any suspicion that there has been alcohol or drug consumption.
- Like DUIs, many BUIs are cited after the boat operator violated another boating rule and by doing so, caught the attention of the officer.
- If you are stopped for BUI suspicion, you may be asked to do a field sobriety test, but you can refuse. The results of a field sobriety test often lead to an arrest, wherein a chemical test is requested.
- If you are stopped and charged with BUI and there is a child under the age of 14 years old on board, then you will also likely be charged with child endangerment.
Consequences for BUI
If you refused a chemical test, then you can lose your privilege to operate a boat or PWC for up to one year and your refusal may be offered into evidence against you at a trial. You have 10 days to dispute the suspension.
If you are convicted of a BUI, which is a misdemeanor, your sentence could include up to $1,000 fines, up to 12 months incarceration, or a combination of both. You may also be sentenced to complete a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program approved by the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
A charge neither means guilt nor conviction. There are a number of defenses that may exist and that can be developed if you have been charged with a BUI. These defenses are similar to typic DUI defenses, and include:
- The “rising blood alcohol” defense;
- An inaccurate chemical test result; and
- Insufficient probable cause to detain or arrest you.
Because of their similarities, a DUI defense attorney can provide excellent legal counsel and representation if you have been charged with a BUI in Georgia. An experienced Alpharetta DUI defense attorney is resourceful and knowledgeable not only of the applicable laws but the science behind rising blood alcohol and chemical tests, which matters because many cases can be dismissed due to inconsistencies, improper protocol or technical failures.
Contact a DUI/BUI Defense Attorney
Being charged with a BUI can be shocking for many otherwise law-abiding citizens. If you have been charged with a BUI, you should contact an experienced attorney to help you defend the charge. Roswell DUI Attorney Richard Lawson has two decades of experience committed to defending people just like you who find themselves in an unwanted position. Richard Lawson's practice is always available to take your call at 404-816-4440, or by an online request for a free consultation. Convictions don't wait, so you shouldn't wait either!