A Guide to Georgia’s Drunk Boating Laws, Liability & Your Legal Rights

Georgia boating laws alcohol

What’s the law for boating under the influence in Georgia?

Every summer, Georgia’s many lakes and rivers beckon boaters and fishermen alike. Georgia offers many great fishing and recreational lakes such as Lake Allatoona, Lake Lanier, Lake Sinclair, Lake Jackson, Lake Oconee, Lake Burton, Lake Seminole, Lake Hartwell, Lake Rabun, Lake Chatuge and Lake Blue Ridge — just to name a few.

With so many options, boating has become a way of life for many Georgia families and residents. But we must all remember the importance of practicing safe boating. A perfect day on the lake can quickly become a nightmare if you are caught boating while under the influence (BUI) of drugs and/or alcohol.

It’s imperative to fully understand the extent of Georgia law when it comes to boating under the influence so that you can make sure that you and your loved ones are protected. And if you or a loved one were injured by an impaired boat operator, contact our experienced Georgia personal injury lawyers at Scholle Law for your free consultation.

What is boating in Georgia?

It’s important to recognize that the state of Georgia’s definition of boating is very expansive. Obviously, if you are in a fishing boat, pontoon or motorboat, you could be charged with a BUI if you are operating it under the influence.

But O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12 (a) also 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, or any combined influence of alcohol and any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to operate, navigate, steer, drive, manipulate, or be in actual physical control of a moving vessel, moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard, or similar moving device.” 

This means that Georgia boating under the influence (BUI) law also covers jet skis, water skis, sailboats, surfboards, aquaplanes, and many other similar vessels.

Georgia BUI laws and penalties

Georgia boating law states that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to operate any moving vessel if their blood alcohol concentration level is 0.02 grams or more, while anyone aged 21 and up shall be presumed under the influence of alcohol if they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more (this matches the legal limit of the allowed blood alcohol concentration level when driving).

In fact, the state of Georgia considers a BUI to be very similar to a DUI. This means that many of the penalties put into place for driving under the influence are used for boating under the influence as well.

According to the Georgia Boat Safety Act, if you are arrested for boating under the influence, you could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by:

  • Severe fines of up to $1,000
  • Up to 40 hours of community service
  • Completion of mandatory classes for boat safety and/or alcohol education
  • A clinical evaluation
  • Loss of boating privileges,
  • Up to 1 year of jail time

Multiple BUI convictions

If you find yourself convicted of multiple BUI convictions within 10 years from the dates of the previous arrests, then you could find yourself facing many of the same penalties but with even more increased fines that could exceed any amount up to $5,000, increased jail time for up to a period of 5 years, and increased community service that could be mandated for up to 60 days.

Drinking while boating with a child on board

If you are found to be drinking while boating with a child under the age of 14 years old onboard the watercraft, you might find yourself facing a separate charge of endangering a child in addition to your boating under the influence (BUI) charge. This includes if you are towing a passenger under the age of 14 on water skis, a surfboard, a tube, or any other similar moving vessels.

If convicted of child endangerment, you would be looking at an additional misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a maximum of 12 months in jail. Repeat offenders could face a felony conviction, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, and 1 to 3 years imprisonment.

FAQ: Boating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Can I lose my boating license for a BUI?

Those arrested for boating under the influence may lose their privilege to operate a boat until they successfully complete a DUI alcohol or drug use risk reduction program approved by the Department of Driver Services.

Can I challenge a boating suspension?

If you find yourself or someone you know has been cited or arrested for boating under the influence in Georgia, you have the option to challenge the suspension. However, you only have 10 business days to file this appeal after the charge or incident. If you do not appeal the suspension within 10 business days, you may lose your privilege to boat in Georgia for up to 1 year.

Can law enforcement board by boat for any reason?

It is important to note that in the state of Georgia, law enforcement can conduct a safety check on your boat at any time without any justification. That means that there doesn’t need to be any probable cause or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to conduct a stop for a boat. This is unlike the rules for stopping cars to check for anyone suspected of driving under the influence.

How do officials test for intoxication?

If you are stopped for suspicion of boating under the influence then you will likely be asked to undergo a series of field sobriety tests similar to what you would be asked to perform if you had been pulled over in your car.

O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12 (e) states that:

“The State of Georgia considers that persons who are under the influence of alcohol, toxic vapors, or drugs while operating a vessel on the waters of this state constitute a direct and immediate threat to the welfare and safety of the general public. Therefore, any person who operates a vessel upon the waters of this state shall be deemed to have given consent, subject to subsection (c) of this Code section, to a chemical test or tests of his or her blood, breath, or urine or other bodily substance for the purpose of determining the alcoholic or drug content of his or her blood if arrested for any offense arising out of acts alleged to have been committed while the person was operating, navigating, steering, driving, manipulating, or in actual physical control of a moving vessel, moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard, or similar moving device while under the influence of alcohol, toxic vapors, or any drug. The test or tests shall be administered at the request of a law enforcement officer having reasonable grounds to believe that the person has been operating or was in actual physical control of a vessel upon the waters of this state while under the influence of alcohol, toxic vapors, or any drug.” 

This means that these tests can include anything ranging from a breathalyzer test, a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, a Finger to Nose test, or a Palm Pat test. You could also be asked to submit blood or other bodily substances for a chemical test.

While you do have the option to refuse to take these tests, it’s important to realize that a refusal to take a sobriety test could result in the temporary loss of your boating privileges.

Why is drinking while boating so bad?

Beyond the fact that alcohol impairs your ability to operate a boat or any other moving vessel (just as it impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery), it can also make you more susceptible to dehydration. A hot, summer day spent in the sun can cause you to sweat, which removes the water from your body but not the alcohol.

Dehydration, combined with the consumption of alcohol, can have you feeling dizzy or even lead to fainting, which can be especially dangerous when that is combined with the rocking motion of a boat because it can increase the chances of falling overboard. Tragic drownings can happen to even the strongest of swimmers if they are disoriented from hitting their head or already impaired due to alcohol and/or dehydration.

Can I have open containers on board my boat?

While you are allowed to have open containers of alcohol while driving a boat in the State of Georgia, it is still necessary to always practice boat safety. Much like driving under the influence, boating under the influence is a serious criminal offense in Georgia, and rightfully so. Boating accidents can be tragic enough without adding alcohol consumption to the equation.

Boating safety and accident prevention

When spending time on the water, it is important that you be safe and smart, just as you are when on the roadways. As boating season approaches, take steps now to avoid making what should be a fun day on the water into a tragic accident.

Make sure that everyone on board has a Coast Guard-approved, wearable life jacket, and that your personal watercraft is properly serviced and maintained. Also, make sure that you are paying attention at all times while operating the vessel and not distracted. Lastly, simply do not boat and drink!

When to contact a Georgia boat accident injury lawyer

If you or a loved one were injured in a boating accident in Georgia, and you suspect that the operator was intoxicated, don’t delay any longer to pursue your right to compensation under the state’s personal injury law. Here at Scholle Law, we fully understand the laws and know your rights.

Don’t hesitate to contact our experienced attorneys to discuss the facts of your case and to make sure that you are as protected as possible. Schedule your free consultation today.