Chiefly among those new laws is the legal blood-alcohol content for boating and hunting. With Senate Bill 136, the Georgia General Assembly and Gov. Nathan Deal brought BUI and HUI substances and limits into alignment with those for driving under the influence. The law also adds “toxic vapors” — including inhalants, such as spray paint, glue and fuel — to the substances contributing to BUI and HUI.
“Boating under the influence and hunting under the influence has changed from 0.10 to 0.08 grams,” said Georgia Department of Natural Resources Conservation Sgt. Mike Barr. “That puts it at the same level that DUI currently is.
“People always ask, how much alcohol can they drink and be under the blood-alcohol content and quite honestly, there’s not a specific answer we can give because each person is different — the person’s body size, metabolism, activity, whether they’ve eaten, or not, whether they’ve been in the sun all day — there’s so many factors that there is no way for any law enforcement officer to tell you that a certain number of drinks or a certain type of alcohol that can keep you under the legal limit. It’s always safer to play it on the safe side. Establish a sober operator, just like you would a designated operator and have that person sharp and attentive while they’re operating on the water.”
Barr warns boaters that while previous regulation changes are often enforced with a grace period, during which rangers will help educate boaters about the new law, the new BUI limit will fully go into effect this week. Beginning Wednesday, boaters found to be in violation of the law will be arrested and charged.
“Most of the time, we will go through a period of verbal guidance on that situation where the law just changed, we found them on the water, they weren’t aware of the law, we try to educate them on the water and give them the new information and let them go,” Barr said. “However, the boating under the influence will have no grace period. Effectively immediately, on May 15, anyone found boating under the influence under the new [guidelines] will be arrested and charged.
“There have been significant deaths on state waters and that has resulted in these very significant boating changes. Alcohol is often a factor in the majority of boating incidents in the state. So we’re doing our best to detect those people operating a vessel under the influence and pull them off the water ... The best advice I can give any boater or group of boaters on the water is just as you hopefully would driving, designate a sober driver.”
Also taking effect Wednesday is the age limit for mandatory life jacket use. Occupants of a vessel on state waters 12-years old or younger must wear a life jacket wile the vessel is moving. The measure increases the age limit from 10-and-under to 12-and-under bringing Georgia into line with other states across the country. Children are not required to wear the life jacket if within a fully enclosed cabin on the vessel.
Barr, however, suggests all occupants of the vessel, no matter their age, always wear a life jacket while on a moving vessel. Likening it to wearing a seat belt in a motor vehicle, Barr described the added dangers associated with accidents on the water.
“I suggest everybody wear one, because it’s a life saver. It’s just like wearing a seat belt in the car,” Barr said. “I always relate it to a car crash. If we’re going home today and someone runs a red light, hits us and it’s pretty significant, someone would be on the phone and in a manner of minutes help would be there.
“But when that same event happens on the lake and lets say it’s 11 o’clock at night and the person has no idea where they’re at. You’re literally looking at hours for a response because they don’t know how to tell us where they’re at and we may or may not have a boat on the water.”
Provisions were also altered for youth operating personal water craft. While children under the age of 12 cannot legally operate a PWC, youth ages 12-15 now must either pass a state-approved boater education course or be in the direct supervision of an adult. Previously, this could include within eyesight and 400 yards, but has been revised to define “direct supervision” as an unimpaired adult on the PWC with the child.
Regulations regarding youth operation of vessels also was changed to reflect that children ages 12-15 may not operate Class 1, 2 or 3 vessels and youth under 12 may not operate any Class 1, 2 or 3 vessels or Class A vessels over 30 horsepower. Putting this change into common terms, children 15 or younger will not be allowed to operate large vessels, including ski boats or bass boats, and will generally be limited to vessels under 16 feet in length.
Legislation during this year’s General Assembly also brought about new boater education requirements to take effect July 1, 2014. The law will require anyone born on or since Jan. 1, 1998, to pass a state-approved boater education course to operate a motorized vessel on state waters. The boater education will be similar to what is required to hunt in Georgia and will not apply to private lakes or ponds.
For details on new laws and a full list of regulation updates, including more regarding vessel light requirements and registration changes, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com.
BCFD urges caution on the water
Also looking to prepare area residents for summertime fun on the lake, Bartow County Fire Marshal Bryan Cox urges common sense while on the water.
“Just use common sense, I know that’s broad at it’s best, but we’ve got graduation coming up that will fall on a holiday weekend this time and Memorial Day is when summertime activities gear up across the world,” Cox said. “You have to have a flotation device for every person on the boat, don’t over load the boat — by weight or number of occupants — but if you just use common sense, you’ll be OK.”
While it is not required to wear a life jacket while in the water, Cox asks everyone to put on a flotation device before going for a swim. Each year, Bartow County Fire Department responds to search and rescue situations as a result of swimmers trying to cross a cove and overestimating their abilities.
In addition to safety in the water, Cox is reminded each summer of the often overlooked fire danger that exists on the lake. To ensure equipment failure does not lead to a fire hazard, always keep a regular maintenance schedule as advised by the manufacturer.
“Make sure to properly maintain equipment,” Cox said. “Most fuel cells are in an enclosed area and the majority of the time, the electronics and the powering — including the batteries — are in the same area. So if something isn’t properly maintained and you have a small leak, vapors can build up then when you, for example, hook up your battery charger you can get an arc and you can get an explosion if the fuel-air mixture is incorrect.
“Usually, a couple times a year, we’ll have a boat fire on the river and it’s usually someone having mechanical issues while they’re on the river and either a spark will happen through a backfire or something else and we end up having a boat fire. If it occurs while it’s sitting in a marina, we can go from a single boat to the possibility of multiple boats and a structure fire. Most people don’t think about things burning on the water, but unfortunately in years past we’ve had some instances take place.”