The Department of Natural Resources and local law enforcement agencies patrol Georgia’s public lakes and waterways to ensure that everyone on the water is adhering to safety rules, including state rules regarding Boating Under the Influence (BUI). It is not illegal in Georgia to have alcohol in an open container on any boat or personal watercraft (PWC) or for the person operating the boat or PWC to have a drink. However, according to The Georgia Boat Safety Act it is unlawful to operate a boat or PWC if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.02 or more and are under 21 years old, a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more if you are 21 years of age or older, or if drugs are detected. It is also unlawful for the owner of a boat or PWC to allow anyone else to operate their boat or PWC while that person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
While reasonable suspicion is needed to pull over any Georgia driver, law enforcement does not need probable cause to stop a person’s vessel to perform a safety check. Under Georgia’s BUI Implied Consent Law, anyone boating or operating a PWC on the state’s lakes and waterways has consented to a chemical test of his or her blood, breath, or urine to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs if requested by a law enforcement official. If the tests confirm a blood alcohol level over the limit for your age group or the presence of any illegal drug, the results will be used against you at trial. If you refuse to be tested, your privilege to operate a boat or PWC may be suspended for a minimum period of one year and your refusal will be offered into evidence against you at a trial. (A BUI will suspend your boating privileges but will not have any effect on your driving privileges.) It is extremely common for a routine safety inspection to turn into a BUI arrest, so always keep your vessel in compliance with all applicable ordinances, including properly working and positioned lights, the correct number of life jackets, and having a pressurized fire extinguisher. If you are flagged for a safety check, be polite and cooperative, yet do not volunteer too much information. Let the officers do their job and move on to the next vessel without being compelled to administer any sobriety tests.
Penalties and Consequences
A BUI is a misdemeanor crime in Georgia, unless you accumulate four BUIs, at which point they will then turn into felonies. The consequences of a BUI charge is virtually the same as a DUI charge. The maximum penalty for a BUI is 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine and the minimum penalties are 24 hours in jail, 12 months probation, a $300 fine, 40 hours of community service, and completion of a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Course. In total, a BUI conviction can easily cost over $2,500 and will remain forever on your Georgia and National criminal record. All future employers, creditors, law enforcement officials, and government agencies will be able to see the record of your arrest, which can affect your ability to gain future employment, enroll in school, and receive financial aid.