Boating Under The Influence – Yes, It Is Serious
Georgia is filled with and surrounded by great waterways for recreation. From the Chattahoochee River to Lake Oconee to the Atlantic Ocean – boat owners are blessed with wonderful opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. While boaters can have a great time on the state’s waterways, they should not be viewed as places to drink too much, ingest recreational drugs, and put others at risk. People sailing on Georgia waters should remember that boating under the influence (BUI) is a crime that carries severe penalties – about as serious as those handed out for driving under the influence (DUI). So if you are going to drink and operate a watercraft, use common sense.
Boating Under The Influence In Georgia
Georgia’s BUI law is codified under O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12(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:
- 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;
- Under the influence of 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;
- Under the intentional influence of any glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor 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;
- Under the combined influence of any two or more of the substances specified in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this subsection 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;
- 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
- 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.
Furthermore, O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12(k) states that any person under the age of 21 years old who is using a watercraft in the state and has an alcohol concentration of 0.02 within three hours of operating any such vessel is also guilty of BUI.
Summarizing this statute, Georgia boaters need to recognize some very important key points:
- Impairment is determined by two measures: per se and less safe. Per se is defined as a defendant having a measurable amount of an intoxicating substance in his or her body. Less safe means that a defendant’s mannerisms or behaviors would lead a reasonable law enforcement officer to conclude that the operator is intoxicated.
- The state has seven (7) statutes under which a boater can be charged with BUI:
- BUI – alcohol – less safe;
- BUI – drugs – less safe;
- BUI – toxic vapors – less safe;
- BUI – combined substances – less safe;
- BUI – alcohol – per se;
- BUI – drugs – per se; and
- BUI – under 21 years old – per se [0.02].
- BUI laws apply to all forms of watercraft – boats, jet skis, water skis, surfboards…everything.
- If children are in the watercraft while the operator is impaired, the operator will also be charged with an added crime of endangering a child.
It is also important for boaters to recognize that Georgia is not some exception in the United States. Georgia’s BUI laws are very similar to those of other states. Alabama, Florida, Michigan, or Oregon – all states have laws which prohibit BUI.
Penalties For BUI
Georgia’s penalties for a BUI conviction are severe. First or second convictions are punishable by incarceration from 10 days to 12 months, a fine between $300.00 and $1,000.00, community service, and/or probation. Three convictions for BUI within ten (10) years are punished as a high and aggravated misdemeanor by imprisonment from 120 days to 12 months, a fine ranging from $1,000.00 to $5,000.00, community service, and/or probation. A fourth or more conviction for BUI within ten years constitutes a felony. It is punished by a period of imprisonment between one to five years, a fine ranging from $1,000.00 to $5,000.00, community service, and/or probation. A person convicted of any of the aforementioned BUI charges should also know that other terms and conditions, such as drug and alcohol testing, counseling, and risk reduction programs, will also be a part of any sentence.
Special Considerations Regarding BUI
Georgia boaters should remember a number of special considerations that affect their interactions with law enforcement on the state’s waters:
- The police do not require probable cause or reasonable suspicion to interact with boaters on state waters. Law enforcement is permitted to conduct safety checks of any watercraft;
- Failure to comply with the rules regarding safety features necessary for the operation of boats on waterways may bring operators unwanted attention from police. Burned out or missing lights, a lack of life vests on the watercraft or failure to have the appropriate fire extinguisher are all valid reasons for police to board a boat and conduct a more thorough search;
- Where a boat is located can affect what laws apply to watercraft operators. Is the craft in state or federal waters? There are differences in state or federal laws regarding what constitutes operating a boat under the influence. These different bodies of law will also affect where a defendant’s case is tried as well;
- It is not illegal to have an open container of alcohol on a boat (e.g. – a mixed drink or open can of beer). A law enforcement officer cannot use the presence of an alcoholic drink to conclude that the operator is impaired. However, if the boat operator acts suspiciously because an open container is present, this could lead the police to conclude the operator is impaired and precipitate a breath test.
Getting Legal Help For BUI
If you find yourself arrested for BUI, do not fight the criminal charge alone – navigating your way through the legal system is complex and riddled with potential landmines that can adversely affect your case and your freedom. You need the help and resources of an experienced attorney who can effectively advocate on your behalf and get you the best results.
The attorneys at Stein & Ward, LLP specialize in drunk driving cases and have decades of experience in this highly technical practice. They also handle BUI cases, and many of the lessons learned in DUI cases also apply to matters where boat owners have been criminally charged with the impaired operation.
If you have been arrested and charged with BUI, contact George Stein at (404) 681-4000 for a free consultation and discussion of your options. Your information will be held in the strictest of confidence. The attorneys at Stein & Ward, LLP look forward to assisting you with your problem.