Boating Under the Influence and Reckless Boating
As summer draws to a close, some Georgia residents and visitors have found a brush with local law enforcement has interrupted their fun at the local lakes and coastal areas. Find out how Georgia boating laws work and what to do if you have been charged with reckless boating or boating under the influence.
Georgia Boating Education Requirements
If you were born after January 1, 1998, you must complete an approved boaters’ safety course before you take to state-controlled waters. Georgia’s boating safety course requirement applies to any state resident born after January 1, 1998 (ages 23 and up as of 2021) or out of state residents. The course requirement is satisfied if a vessel’s operator has been issued a license by the U.S. Coast Guard, or another state with a similar boater education course. An operator must be able to demonstrate that the course has been completed if stopped by law enforcement. This isn’t difficult, but it does take some advance planning to get through all the steps:
- Complete an online or in-person boater’s education course from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or an NASBLA approved organization.
- Receive a Georgia Boating Safety Certificate after completing the course.
- If you attended an NASBLA course or a course in another state, bring your certificate of completion to the Department of Driver’s Safety (DNR classes are recorded automatically).
- Get a boater endorsement anchor on your Driver’s license or ID card. While the “anchor” designation is not required, having the proper designation added to the driver’s license alleviates the requirement to have the certificate with you on the lake.
- Out of state boaters should carry their identification as well as proof of completing a boater safety course while operating a vessel in this state.
If you are stopped while boating without having met the safety course requirement you could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Who Can Drive a Boat or Personal Watercraft in Georgia?
In addition to the boating safety course requirement, there are also age restrictions on who can operate a boat or personal watercraft and what size they can operate:
- Under 12 years old: No personal watercraft, only boats less than 16 feet in length powered by a 30-horsepower motor or less, if accompanied by a competent adult.
- Ages 12 to 15: Only boats and personal watercraft less than 16 feet in length if they have completed a boating safety course and are accompanied by a competent adult.
- Ages 16 and up: Any length boat or personal watercraft with a proper boating endorsement on their license or ID card or boating safety certificate in addition to photo ID.
Preparing Your Boat
Boating laws aren’t just about the driver -- most boats also have to be registered. The exceptions are:
- Sailboats under 12 feet
- Canoes & kayaks
You must keep your Georgia Certificate of Boat Registration onboard and visually display your registration number on both sides of the boat using decals, paint, labels with three-inch-high block numbers. Be sure to block out any other numbers on the bow of your boat. Also be sure to equip a fire extinguisher and keep it in working condition.
You are also responsible to make sure there are enough Personal Floatation Devices on board for every rider. Children under age 13 must wear their life vests at all times. Everyone else must put them on if the vehicle is being towed.
Once you are out on the water, you have a responsibility to follow Georgia boating laws and rules. One reason to pay attention to your boater education course is that traffic laws and boating rules aren’t always the same. Under Georgia law:
“Any person who operates any vessel or manipulates any water skis, aquaplane, surfboard, tube, or similar device in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property commits the offense of reckless operation of a vessel or other water device.”
If you violate a boating safety rule, you could face criminal charges. Reckless boating can include:
- Water skiing too close to swimmers, launch ramps, or other boats
- Buzzing other boats or jumping their wakes
- Causing damage with your boat’s wake
- Failing to maintain proper distance between your boat (and any waterskier, wakeboarder, or tuber) and another boat, dock, pier, bridge, swimmer, or public use area
- Or any other act that meets the definition specified above
Failing to honor boating rules could result in misdemeanor charges for reckless boating. There are additional criminal consequences if someone is seriously injured or killed because of a boating accident.
Boating Under the Influence
However, boating and motor vehicle laws are alike when it comes to drunk driving (or drunk boating). It is illegal for anyone to use a boat, personal watercraft, canoe, kayak, even water skis or a surfboard while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Boating under the influence (BUI) carries serious consequences, including mandatory minimum jail time (24 hours for a first offense).
BUI and Your Georgia Boating License
Georgia boaters are also affected by the state’s “Implied Consent” laws. If a law enforcement officer has reason to believe you were boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she can request a breath or chemical test to measure the alcohol or controlled substances in your breath or blood. If you refuse this test, or if the results show a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or the presence of any illegal drugs, your Georgia privilege will be suspended for at least one year.. Your boating privileges will only be reinstated after you complete a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program and paid a fee to the state. Second or subsequent BUI license suspensions will last for five years.
If you have been charged with reckless boating or boating under the influence, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney to build a defense and protect your rights on the water. At the McCoy Law Firm, LLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys know how important water sports and boating can be to Georgia residents. We will help you fight against boating related criminal charges to preserve your right to take advantage of our state’s natural waterways, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.
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