New Boating Laws Pass Georgia House

The Georgia House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 136 last week with little opposition and the bill has returned to the Senate due to a typographical error. It is expected to land on Governor Deal’s desk before Summer 2013 to be signed into law. The bill, first introduced by Senator Butch Miller to the state Senate where it passed unanimously, contained many changes to Georgia’s boating safety laws including raising the minimum legal age to operate some boats, requiring boating education, and changing the requirement for life jackets from 10 to 13. The most notable change, however, was lowering the legal limit for operating a boat or other watercraft under the influence to 0.08 – matching the legal limits for operating a car.

The bill was a response to several tragedies and high profile accidents that occurred on Lake Lanier, and is split into 2 portions named for the victims of those tragedies. The “Kyle Glover Boater Education Law” portion of the bill (named after musician Usher’s stepson who died after being struck by a jet-ski last July), requires an online boater safety course for anyone who rents a boat or was born after January 1, 1998, raises the legal age for operating certain watercraft, and requires that children aged 13 or younger wear life jackets on moving boats. The boating under the influence limits are contained in the “Jake and Griffin Prince BUI Law” portion of the bill, named for 2 young boys from Buford (ages 9 and 13) who were killed when a center console boat plowed into the pontoon boat shared by 4 families last June. The driver of the console boat was intoxicated well beyond the legal limit and is currently facing multiple criminal charges.

A change to the BUI portion of the law raised some concerns for Georgia lawmakers in the House. The legal alcohol limits were applied not just to boating and personal watercraft, but also to hunters. Previously, the acceptable blood alcohol limit for hunters was 0.10 (the same as the previous boating level), but the new legislation lowers the limit to 0.08, making the legal limit for driving, boating, and hunting all the same. This seems reasonable since a blood alcohol level that impairs driving would make operating a boat safely equally as difficult and make the use of a hunting rifle or crossbow dangerous. The bill also calls for charges to escalate against repeat offenders of BUI or HUI.

The bill was designed to save lives, and most Georgia lawmakers agree that it will. However, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has noted that the enforcement of BUI laws remains difficult due to the lack of “lanes” on waterways. Sadly, many BUI citations occur only after an accident has occurred. Georgia lawmakers are hoping that Bill 136, once signed into law, will raise awareness and influence boaters to be more cautious about how they choose to operate their watercraft. The required online safety course will not cost anything for boaters or tax payers, and will be available on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website. Safety education such as this has proven very effective in other states according to Representative Chad Nimmer who sponsored the bill in the House.

Read more about Bill 136