FORT BENNING, Ga., (June 26, 2013) -- With new boating safety laws in effect, state law enforcement officials are warning boaters on the dangers and consequences of alcohol consumption on the water.

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the legal blood alcohol level for boating under the influence violations has changed from .10 to .08 percent to mirror legal limits for driving.

It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 years to operate a boat or personal watercraft if their blood alcohol level is .02 or more, and those 21 years of age or older are considered to be under the influence if their blood alcohol level is .08 or more.

"We expect an increase in boating under the influence because this year we have lowered the limit," said Capt. Mike England of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. "That's something we want to keep an eye on -- to see what impact it has."

The Georgia Boat Safety Act prohibits anyone from boating under the influence, including any boat, sailboat, personal watercraft, water skis, sailboard or similar device while intoxicated. It also is unlawful for the owner of a boat or personal watercraft to allow anyone else to operate it while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are no laws against having open containers of alcohol on a boat or watercraft.

Georgia law states that those arrested for boating under the influence may lose boat or personal watercraft privileges until they successfully complete a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program approved by the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Violators also will be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $1,000 or prison time for up to one year. Child endangerment charges are added if a child under the age of 14 years is on board. There are loss of privileges to operate a boat or personal watercraft for up to one year, and for those who refuse to be tested, that evidence will be used at trial.

"That's why part of the legislation change was to increase the penalty to match driving," England said. "The suspension is longer, the fines are higher and jail time is longer to deter folks from boating and driving."

England said "environmental stressors" such as heat, wind and the motions of waves could cause fatigue.

"Anytime you add a little bit of alcohol, everything seems to slow down when you're on the water," he said.

England said the Georgia Department of Natural Resources suggests anyone who suspects a boater of driving under the influence or other illegal activity should call the 24-hour tip hotline at 800-241-4113 or dial *DNR from an AT&T cellphone.

"We encourage folks to find a designated driver, or as we call it, a designated skipper," England said. "We want people to have a good time, but do it in a way that doesn't endanger their lives or others."

Page last updated Wed June 26th, 2013 at 12:24