Officials urge water, boating safety

COVINGTON -- This is Boating Safety Week in Georgia and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is reminding boaters and others enjoying the water over the Memorial Day weekend to be cautious while having fun.

"For many people, the holiday weekend signals the perfect time to be out on the water with family and friends," said Col. Terry West, DNR chief of law enforcement. "However, we want to remind everyone that public waters will be very crowded, and in an effort to keep everyone safe, we encourage boat operators to stay sober and alert and know Georgia's boating laws before heading out on the water."

Last year, there were 158 boating accidents and 13 boating incident-related fatalities in Georgia, and conservation rangers made 177 boating under the influence arrests.

DNR offers the following safety rules for boat and personal water craft operators:

  • Designate an operator. Do not drink and operate a boat.

  • Take a boating safety course at www.goboatgeorgia.com.

  • Wear a life jacket. Children under 10 years of age are required to wear one while on board a moving boat.

  • Don't overload the boat with people or equipment. Check on the capacity plate for the maximum weight or maximum number of people the boat can safely carry.

  • Use navigation lights at all times when on the water at night. Check to make sure lights are working before it gets dark.

  • Watch your speed. All size water vehicles are prohibited from operating at greater than idle speeds within 100 feet of any vessel, unless overtaking or meeting another vessel in compliance with the rules of the road.

  • Do not jump the wake of another boat.

There is a minimum age requirement to operate a boat or personal water craft on public lakes and waterways. Minimum age requirements vary depending on the size of the vessel. For a complete listing, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com.

Also, Georgia DNR reminds boaters to refrain from drinking alcohol while operating a boat or personal water craft.

"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, provided they are not less safe," Weaver said. "However, if a person is over the age of 21 and has a blood alcohol content of .10 or higher they are presumed to be less safe and may be charged with boating under the influence."

Anyone arrested for boating under the influence may lose the privilege of operating a boat, be charged with a misdemeanor punishable of up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to 12 months in prison.

The BUI 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.

"Operating a boat is as complicated as driving a car and a boating incident is as dangerous as an automobile accident," said Ron Fennel, chairman of TEAM Georgia, a safe and sober driving and boating coalition. "However, many people who would never drive a car intoxicated think it is OK to operate their boat after drinking. Operating a boat while intoxicated is illegal and hazardous to themselves and others on the water."

TEAM Georgia's 2010 Safe Boating Campaign will reward those who register as a designated safe operator with a chance to win prizes. To register online, visit www.teamgeorgia.net.