Georgia Boating Laws

Georgia Boating Laws in Georgia

Boating is a very popular pastime in Georgia. To ensure to safety of everyone on the water, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has developed rules that boat operators must follow. It is important to be aware and follow all of the boating rules to avoid accidents or citations by the DNR.

Georgia Boating License

The first step in operating a boat is to obtain a boating license. As of July 1, 2014, anyone born on or after January 1, 1998, must complete a boating education course approved by the department before they are able to operate a boat on Georgia state waters. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If a person is licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, operating on a private lake or pond, or if they are a non-resident that has a NASBLA approved boater education course examination from another state then they do not have to obtain a Georgia boating license.

To get a boating license, you must first take a boater's education course. This course is available to take online or in a classroom. The online course is $29.50 and can be found here. After successful completion of the online course, you will be sent a Georgia Boating Safety Certificate in the Mail.

To take the class in person, contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to find a class in your area. Some of the classroom courses are free while others cost $29.99.

Boat Operator Requirements in Georgia

Under 12 years of age:

Anyone under 12 years of age is prohibited from operating a PWC (Personal Water Craft) or any vessel that is 16 feet in length or longer. However, people under 12 can legally operate a boat less than 16 feet in length powered by a motor of 30 horsepower or less only if they are accompanied by a competent adult.

Between 12 and 15 years of age:

People between 12 and 15 years may not legally operate a vessel 16 feet or longer. However, they can legally operate a PWC or vessel that is less than 16 feet if they have passed a boating education course approved by the DNR and are accompanied by a competent adult.

16 years or older:

Anyone 16 or older may legally operate any boat or PWR in Georgia state waters if they have a proper identification card on board. This can include a driver's license or other government-issued identification that includes a description of the person, a photograph, and their date of birth.

Steps to Take Before Going Out on the Water

After getting your boating license, it is understandable to be excited to get on the water as soon as possible. However, there are actions you need to complete first in order to protect yourself and others out on the water.

First, read through and familiarize yourself with all of Georgia's boating laws and regulations.

Second, make sure you have a Georgia Certificate of Boat Registration and decals that authorize you to operate your vessel legally in Georgia. Sailboats under 12 feet, canoes, kayaks, and rowboats along with boats operated exclusively on private lakes are not subject to this rule. The Certificate of Boat Registration and the decal are obtained by submitting the application by mail along with the appropriate fee.

The registration number must be painted, decaled, or affixed another way to both sides of the bow. The number must read from left to right on both sides of the bow. The number must be in at least 3-inch-high block letters and the color must construct with the background. Lastly, the letters must be separated from the numbers by a space or hyphen.

If you move and change your address, you must notify the DRN Boat Registration Office by mail or phone within 15 days of the change.

Lastly, make sure that you have the required equipment on board. Always have the boating safety certificate on board with the validation decals displayed. There must be at least one (PFD) personal flotation device for each person on board. People under 13 years of age must wear a PFD at all times while on any moving vessel. A fire extinguisher is also required to be on board. It must be easily accessible and in working condition.

How to Navigate Other Boats or Vessels on the Water in Georgia

Many people mistakenly think that they can apply the rules of the road to the water. That is harmful thinking! The right of way laws that vehicles have to follow do not apply to boats, but there are other rules you should follow to avoid an accident.

Georgia boating rules have outlined three rules of navigation for operators:

  1. Practice good seamanship
  2. Keep a sharp lookout. Be vigilant in watching for people swimming or for boats pulling skiers or tubes.
  3. Maintain a safe speed and distance. Similarly to driving on the road, it is important to give other boats some distance when following them or driving by them.

Furthermore, if you are driving a motor powered vessel, you must give way to:

  • To anchored vessels
  • Vessels that are restricted in their ability to move. An example is when a boat is towing another boat
  • A boat engaged in commercial fishing
  • A sailboat under sail unless it is passing you

If you are operating a boat using a sail, you must yield to:

  • Any vessel not under control
  • Any boat restricted in its ability to maneuver
  • A vessel engaged in commercial fishing

When Encountering Other Vessels at Night

It can be difficult to see and navigate when driving at night. Georgia DNR has laid out some rules for operators to follow so boats can communicate with each other. Boats should use their light to indicate their position. The lights are broken down as follows:

White Light: If a boat has only a white light, you are overtaking another vessel. You can pass on either side.

Green and White Light: You should maintain your course and speed. Just be aware in the case the other driver does not see you or is not aware of the boating rules.

Red and White Light: You must give way to the other vessel. Slow down and allow the other boat to pass or you may turn to the right and pass behind them.

Only red light or only green light: You may be approaching a sailboat, and you must give way. They always have the right of way.

Rules for Towing Others

Everyone likes to water ski, tube, and kneeboard but the operator of the boat must be cautious when towing others to ensure they do not get injured. When pulling others, there are some rules you must follow:

  1. It is illegal to tow anyone between sunset and sunrise.
  2. The person being towed must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  3. You must tow people within 100 feet of a dock, swimming area, shoreline, etc.
  4. Each person being towed must wear a PFD (personal floatation device), and the device must be fastened.  
  5. Anytime someone is towing somebody, there must be a person observing the towed person at all times OR a wide-angle rearview mirror mounted so that the operator can observe the towed person at all times. However, a wide-angle mirror may not be used in place of an observer on a PWC.

It is critical that boat drivers follow these laws when pulling others in order to avoid a passenger being seriously injured. 

Reckless Boating in Georgia

Georgia Law O.C.G.A. §52-7-12.1 reads as follows:

Any person who operates any vessel or manipulates any water skis, aquaplane, surfboard, tube, or similar device in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property commits the offense of reckless operation of a vessel or other water device.

Some examples of reckless boating according to the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division include

  • Water skiing or dropping water skiers close to swimmers, launching ramps or other boaters
  • Jumping the wake of another boat within 100 feet of that boat or buzzing other boats
  • Causing damage from the wake of your boat

The consequences of reckless boating could include seriously injuring another person or even killing another person. A homicide by vessel conviction carries substantial penalties, so it is in your best interest to drive safely.   Remember, Georgia boating laws and regulations related to reckless boating are different than reckless driving.  

Improper Distance when Boating in Georgia

Another example of an illegal boating practice is improper distance. This occurs when the driver does not maintain a proper distance while driving the boat or while towing someone on water skis, tubes, or similar devices.        

Specific examples of improper distance include but are not limited to:

  • Operating a boat or towing a person greater than idle speed within 100 feet of an anchored boat, dock, pier, bridge, people in the water, public park, beach, swimming area, marina, restaurant, or other public use area.
  • Running around or within 100 feet of another boat at greater than idle speed unless you are overtaking or meeting the other boat in compliance with the rules for encountering other boats
  • Following closely behind another boat
  • Jumping the wake of another boat
  • Changing direction in order to jump the wake of another boat

Similar to reckless boating in Georgia, people can get injured by drivers who fail to maintain a proper distance. Serious injury by vessel is a crime that you could be charged with if you injured someone while operating a boat. 

Georgia's Laws About Alcohol and Boating:

The Georgia Boat Safety Act prohibits anyone from boating under the influence (BUI). Specifically, the laws state that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a boat or PWC if their blood alcohol content is 0.02 or more. For people 21 and older, they may not operate a boat or PWC if their blood alcohol level is 0.08 or more or if drugs are detected. If the operator is under the influence, they will be charged with a BUI.

In addition, by operating a boat or PWC on Georgia waters, you have impliedly consented to be tested for drugs or alcohol if requested by a law enforcement officer. Refusing to comply with the tests could cost you losing your privilege to operate a boat or PWC for up to one year.

Georgia Boating Under the Influence Penalty

As with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Boating Under the Influence (BUI) carries sizable punishments. Boating under the influence is charged as a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $1,000 and/or prison time for up to one year. A defendant may also lose the ability to operate a boat or PWC until they successfully complete a DUI Alcohol or Drug Program approved by the Department of Driver Services. However, a person arrested for BUI with a child under 14 years on board will also be guilty of an additional charge of endangering a child.

Boating under the influence is a serious offense and it is critical to retain representation from the very beginning. Our Georgia boating under the influence lawyers are highly experienced in the area of DUI and BUI law so contact us today. 

The Duty Georgia Boat Operators Have When There is an Accident

If you observe an accident while boating, you must stop and render help to anyone involved in the accident as long as it does not endanger your boat or any passengers on your boat. Further, you will not be held liable for any civil damages that arise as a result of your help as long you helped in good faith and in a prudent manner. 

If someone dies or disappears from a boat, receives an injury requiring first aid or medical attention, or there is property damage exceeding $2,000 to the boats involved in the accident, both operators must report it as soon as possible, but you are required to report within 48 hours. For other reports of accidents, the report must be made within 5 days of the accident. Reports are completed by filing an accident report, and they can be obtained from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. You must give your name, address, and Certificate of Boat Registration information in writing to any injured person and the owner of any damaged property if you are involved in a boating accident.

Contact Us

If you have been charged with Boating Under the Influence or have questions about boating laws, contact our Boating Attorneys in Georgia today. The laws are constantly changing and we make it our mission to stay up to date on current developments. We are here to help whenever you need us. Call now if you have any questions.

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