WRD Encourages Boat Operators to Limit Alcohol While on the Water
Everyone is encouraged to have fun while boating, however, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) reminds boat operators to refrain from drinking too much alcohol while driving a boat. Too much alcohol, already known to impair performance, creates dangerous conditions that can lead to tragedy when mixed with boating activities. Last year, 291 Boating Under the Influence (BUI) arrests were made on Georgia waterways.
“It is not illegal to have alcohol in an open container on a boat, nor is it illegal for a person operating a boat to drink,” says Lt. Col. Terry West, Georgia State Boating Administrator. “However, if a person is over the age of 21 and has a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, they are presumed to be boating under the influence which is illegal and penalties apply for those arrested.”
The marine environment, such as waves, engine noise, water, sun and wind, accelerates impairment and fatigue in recreational boaters. Boaters create a hazardous situation when this fatigue is combined with the effects of alcohol. Alcohol affects a boat operator’s coordination skills, judgment and reaction time. The consumption of alcohol causes inner ear disturbances, affecting balance and the ability for an intoxicated person who falls overboard to distinguish the correct way to the water surface. Alcohol also creates a false sense of warmth in a person, which may prevent someone from feeling the effects of hypothermia before it is too late.
People arrested for BUI may lose their privilege to operate a boat. These privileges are not reinstated until the successful completion of an approved Driving Under the Influence Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program. The offender also will be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to 12 months in prison.
The BUI law establishes a “zero tolerance” blood alcohol level of .02 for people under age 21 who are caught operating a boat. Minors who are arrested for BUI will face misdemeanor charges. The law also creates misdemeanor offenses for “endangering a child” if a boat operator transports a child under age 14 while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Furthermore, this law also allows for the revocation of boat operator privileges for people who refuse a sobriety test when suspected of operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs and/or people whose blood, breath or urine test shows the presence of illegal drugs or an alcohol level of .10 or higher. Last year WRD Conservation Rangers issued 291 BUI citations.
“Operating a boat is as complicated as driving a car, and a boating accident is potentially as dangerous as an automobile accident due to the marine environment,” says West. “However, many people who would never drive a car intoxicated think it is okay to operate their boat after drinking. Operating a boat while intoxicated is illegal and hazardous to themselves and others on the water.”
Plan ahead to enjoy a great day of boating without alcohol. Take along plenty of food and a variety of drinks, such as water, lemonade, soft drinks or non-alcoholic beer. Plan to limit the time of your trip to avoid becoming fatigued. If it is known in advance that alcohol will be present, designate a driver, both on the boat and back at the ramp and ensure that all passengers are wearing life jackets.