Can I Drink On My Boat?
A law was passed in 2016 making it legal to “float under the influence.” Many boaters and non-boaters alike took this to mean that the state of Georgia had made it legal to drink on one’s own boat. This was not the case.
The floating while drinking law only pertains to people floating on the water within 100 feet of the shore and using a tube of some type that does not have a motor. It remains illegal to drink alcohol and operate a boat on the waters of the state.
According to the state’s Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Boat Safety Act makes it illegal for anyone to boat under the influence. This includes the operation of a sailboat, motorboat, personal watercraft, sailboard, water skis or similar device. A boat’s owner can also be criminally charged if they allow a passenger who is intoxicated to operate the boat or personal watercraft.
Georgia Laws on Boating Under The Influence
The laws of Georgia state that it is illegal for any person under the age of 21 years to operate a personal watercraft or boat with a blood alcohol content of 0.02 or greater. The law also says that it is illegal for any person 21 and over to operate a personal watercraft or boat if their blood alcohol content is 0.08 or greater. These are the same percentages that determine a charge of driving under the influence when operating a motor vehicle on land.
All of these laws apply to the operator of the boat. It is not a criminal offense to consume alcohol on a water vessel if you are a passenger and do not take over the controls. It is also not illegal for the person operating the boat to have alcohol in their system, as long as their BAC level does not reach 0.08 percent or greater.
Penalties for Boating Under The Influence
A person who is arrested for, and convicted of, boating under the influence could lose their boating privileges until they pass a Department of Driver Services-approved DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program. The operator will also be given fines not to exceed $1,000, and they could be sentenced to prison for up to a year.
When a person operates a boat or personal watercraft, they automatically consent to be tested for alcohol or drugs. If the operator refused any tests being administered by a law enforcement officer, they face additional penalties. If there is a passenger on the boat under the age of 14 at the time of the BUI charge, there is an additional endangering a child charge.
So, can you drink on your own boat? Certainly. If you do choose to drink on your boat, don’t operate it. You should act the same way on your boat as you do in your car. Boating under the influence is considered a serious crime in Georgia, and law enforcement officers are constantly trying to catch offenders. When everyone boats sober, fewer accident occur and people are able to enjoy their time on the water without incident.
What To Do If You Are Stopped
Some people with little boating experience don’t realize that you can be stopped on the water just as you can be stopped on the road while driving a car. If you are stopped by the Coast Guard, Marine Patrol or DNR, your best bet is to be cooperative. Here is some information about these stops:
Safety checks are for the benefit of everyone. Law enforcement can stop anyone at anytime. They do not need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to conduct a stop and check of a vessel.
If you would like to avoid a safety check, make it apparent that you take safety seriously. Make sure all of your lights are in working condition and in the right position, keep life jackets on board (one per passenger) and have a fire extinguisher in plain view.
Do not fumble around trying to hide containers of alcohol; you will only draw suspicion. Remember that it is perfectly legal to have open containers on a boat.
Be polite if you are stopped. The sooner law enforcement conducts their check, the sooner they will be off your boat and moving along.
An Experienced BUI Defense Attorney Can Help You
If you find yourself arrested for boating under the influence in Atlanta, you will be facing stiff consequences if you are found guilty. An attorney versed in driving under the influence may be adequate, but you really want an attorney who has experience representing people who have been charged with BUI.
At Hawkins, Spizman and Fortas, we understand the penalties you are facing, and we know that you don’t want your good name tarnished. Reach out to our office today to schedule your free case evaluation. We will speak to you about the nature of your charges, talk to you about your legal options and begin putting together a strong defense in order to lessen the severity of your situation. Call us today, and begin taking steps to protect your reputation and your freedom.