Boating Under the Influence

It’s Summer time and the Fourth of July is this Saturday, which means lots of grilling, fishing, fireworks, and outside fun. Often times all this fun is accompanied by alcohol and boats. Knowing this, law enforcement is on full alert to try and keep the roads, rivers, and lakes as safe as possible. Which means, you need to be fully aware of your rights and limitations while operating a boat as they are slightly different from a motor vehicle.

Below I have included some brief sections of the BUI statute which outline the BAC limits while driving a boat:

O.C.G.A § 57-7-12 “Waters of this State” (Public Water Ways)

  • (a) 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:
    • (1) Under the influence of alcohol 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.
    • (5) The person’s alcohol concentration is 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; or
    • (6) Subject to the provisions of subsection (b) of this Code section, there is any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance, as defined in Code Section 16-13-21, present in the person’s blood or urine, or both, including the metabolites and derivatives of each or both without regard to whether or not any alcohol is present in the person’s breath or blood.
  • (k)(1) A person under the age of 21 years shall not operate, navigate, steer, drive, or be in actual physical control of any moving vessel, moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard or similar moving device, or personal watercraft while such person’s alcohol concentration is 0.02 grams or more at any time within three hours after such operating, navigating, steering, driving, or being in actual physical control from alcohol consumed before such operating, navigating, steering, driving, or being in actual physical control ended.
    • (2) No plea of nolo contendere shall be accepted for any person under the age of 21 years charged with a violation of this Code section.

One major difference between BUI and DUI is the requirements for law enforcement to stop the vehicle or boat. In a vehicle, the officer must have reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime is being or has been committed. However, in a boat the statute states that:

OCGA § 52-7-25 provides:

  • (a) Any person empowered to enforce this article and any rule or regulation adopted pursuant hereto shall have the authority to stop and board any vessel subject to this article or any such regulation for the purpose of inspection or determining compliance with this article….
  • (b) An officer empowered to enforce this article shall have the power …
    • (4) To board vessels in use, for purposes of examining any documents and safety equipment.

And this statute has been upheld in Peruzzi v. State, 275 Ga. 333, 334, 567 S.E.2d 15, 16 (2002). So aside from an inspection of safety equipment, law enforcement may stop your boat for a variety of other reasons such as: seeing the driver holding a beer can, reckless operation, no registration numbers on the boat, ect…

Private Lakes and Ponds

But… with all that being said, there is case law which was made here in Coffee County Georgia which states that O.C.G.A § 57-7-12 does not apply to privately owned lakes which are not open to the public.

“The Court of Appeal, Miller, J., held that Boat Safety Act was not applicable to incident that occurred on privately-owned lake.” Meeks v. State, 265 Ga. App. 279, 593 S.E.2d 746 (2004).

In conclusion, you should always err on the side of caution and be responsible anytime you decide to consume alcohol, especially if you will be operating a motor vehicle or boat. However, in the event that you are arrested, be sure to hire a competent attorney to help you navigate the legal system and uphold your rights.

Happy 4th of July! ‘Merica!