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Boating Under the Influence in Georgia

Most people are familiar with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charge, but are you prepared in the event of a BUI? Boating Under the Influence is illegal in Georgia, and a BUI charge can come with fines and consequences just like a DUI. Although the charge refers to “boating,” this law applies to the operation of other aquatic vehicles such as jet skis, water skis and surfboards. If you have been charged with Boating Under the Influence in Georgia, do not hesitate before seeking out counsel from a legal expert.

THE 10 DAY LETTER

Just as with a DUI, Georgia state law gives you only 10 business days to appeal the suspension of your boating license. If you fail to file this appeal or if your appeal fails, you could lose your boating license for up to a year. In Georgia, operating a watercraft under a suspended license will cost you. The first offense is considered a misdemeanor and will earn you a fine of $500-1,000. If you commit a second offense within five years of the first, the charge becomes a high and aggravated misdemeanor offense with a fine of $1,000-1,500. Each offense will extend your suspension an additional six months. Your BUI lawyer will be able to file the appeal on your behalf.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED BOATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE IN GEORGIA?

Georgia’s BUI laws mirror the state’s DUI laws; a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher is considered legally impaired. For those under 21, the maximum “acceptable” BAC drops to .02. The state’s BUI laws fall under the Georgia Boat Safety Act, so the laws only apply to those operating watercraft on public waterways. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources and local law enforcement agencies patrol Lake Lanier, Lake Oconee, Lake Allatoona, and Lake Burton along with the state’s other public waterways. The law does not apply to those boating on private lakes.

It is important to note that in Georgia, law enforcement does not need any reason to stop your boat. This is the major difference between the state’s DUI laws and BUI laws. When you are driving, law enforcement must have at least a “reasonable suspicion” of wrongdoing to stop you.

Boat safety checks, however, can be conducted at any time, regardless of any probable cause. Once stopped, the officer will assess you for impairment and may ask you to perform field sobriety tests of the same sort you would perform if you had been pulled over in your car or ask for breath, blood, or other bodily substances for a chemical test. You can refuse to submit to chemical testing, but that refusal can be used against you by the prosecution in a criminal case and is also grounds for the separate administrative suspension mentioned above.

CONSEQUENCES FOR BOATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE

It is a common misconception that having your boating license suspended affects your driving privileges in Georgia, but this is not the case. A BUI will only affect your boating privileges; that said, BUI is a serious misdemeanor that can be punished with fines and jail time. Even a first offense carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Four or more BUIs in a 10 year period is a felony offense and punishable with up to 5 years in prison. Furthermore, if a child under the age of fourteen is in the watercraft at the time, a separate charge of child endangerment is added.

If your BAC tests above the legal limit after a boating accident, you may be charged with Serious Injury By Vessel or Homicide By Vessel, two extremely serious offenses. But even a single BUI offense will go on your criminal record, which could have a permanent effect on your education and employment opportunities in the future.

Do not let a day of fun on the water turn into a damaging conviction – a qualified lawyer will help you defend yourself and retain your right to boat in Georgia.

If you have been charged with a BUI, do not hesitate to seek the counsel of an expert criminal attorney in Georgia. This is a serious offense that could have long-term consequences for you without the appropriate legal representation. Even if you did not feel “impaired” at the time of the charge, state law could make you liable for a number of additional, more severe charges.