Boating Under the Influence: What You Need to Know
Boating is a way of life for many Georgia families. With over 2,300 miles of coastline, the state invites residents to head out on the water for fun and recreation. But when alcohol is involved, fun in the sun can quickly turn into criminal charges. Find out what you need to know if you’re facing a boating under the influence charge.
In this blog post, I will talk about when DUI charges happen on the water. I will explain the criminal consequences of boating under the influence and what defenses you and your criminal defense attorney can use if you are facing the charges.
Legal Limits for Boating Under the Influence
Most people know that drunk driving is illegal and carries with it some pretty serious legal consequences. But what you may not realize is that those same limits extend onto Georgia’s lakes and coastal waters too. The Georgia Boat Safety Act says that it is illegal to operate any moving vessel while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or “toxic vapors”. The legal limits for boating under the influence are the same as the state DUI laws:
- For people under age 21, a blood alcohol level of 0.02 or more
- For people age 21 and over, a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more, or where the alcohol has affected them by making the user “less safe” to operate their vessel
- With any amount of intoxicating drugs or toxic vapors that makes the user “less safe” to operate their vessel
- Any combination of drugs and alcohol that makes the user “less safe” to operate their vessel
The law also prevents allowing another person to operate a vehicle in the same condition. This part of the law can be applied to parents who allow their children to drink and boat, or the owners of watercraft who let friends and family members use their vessels while they are intoxicated.
Georgia Law Says BUI Includes Water Skis and Surfboards
Even if you were aware that you could be charged with boating under the influence for operating a power boat or personal watercraft (PWC) after drinking, you may not have realized just how many water sports are covered by the law. Georgia’s BUI law has one of the most far-reaching definitions of boating in the country. It covers:
- Power boats
- Sail boats
- Personal watercraft (such as Sea-Doos)
- Paddle boats
- Canoes and kayaks
- Water skis
- Any watercraft other than a sailboard or homemade or inflatable raft
That means even if you aren’t in a boat, you can still be charged with BUI if a conservation ranger or police officer has reason to believe you are over the legal limits.
Penalties for Boating Under the Influence
The maximum penalty for BUI depends on two main factors: any past BUI convictions in the last 10 years, and whether there was a child in the vessel or being towed on skis, an innertube, wakeboard, or other similar device. The maximum penalty for BUI is:
- A first BUI conviction is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 24 hours to 12 months of jail time, $300 - $1,000 in fines, and at least 40 hours of community service.
- A second BUI conviction is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 72 hours to 12 months of jail time, $600 to $1000 in fines, and at least 30 days of community service.
- A third BUI conviction is a “high and aggravated” misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 15 days to 12 months of jail time, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, and at least 30 days of community service.
- A fourth or higher BUI conviction is a “high and aggravated” misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days to 5 years of jail or prison time, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, and 60 days of community service. If all 3 prior offenses were on or after May 15, 2013, the fourth BUI conviction is a felony, rather than a misdemeanor.
Where there are children involved, either as passengers in or being towed behind a boat, the person charged with boating under the influence can also face a second charge of child endangerment. This is a separate misdemeanor conviction with a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and $1,000 in fines. However, third and subsequent convictions of child endangerment are felonies. In those cases, the criminal defendant could face up to three years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
Common Defenses to BUI Charges
Many of the defenses to BUI charges are the same as drunk or drugged driving. Depending on the circumstances in your case, your attorney may be able to challenge whether:
- You were the one controlling the vessel
- You were in control of who used the vessel
- The vessel was moving at the time (anchored or moored vessels don’t apply)
- There was an appropriate reason for the law enforcement officer to stop you
- The police or conservation rangers used the proper field sobriety tests
- The chemical tests to identify drugs were done properly and by the right people
- You were informed of your rights at the time of the arrest
If you have been charged with boating under the influence, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to develop your best defense and protect your right to boat on Georgia’s lakes and coasts. Lance McCoy of The McCoy Law Firm, LLC, is a criminal and DUI defense attorney with 25 years of experience. From his family-owned law firm in Cartersville, Georgia, he represents defendants facing boating under the influence charges throughout northwest Georgia. If you are facing Georgia DUI or BUI charges, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.