Georgia’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Laws and Penalties

Read about the consequences of boating under the influence (BUI) in Georgia.

By Emily Keener

Like many other states, Georgia law prohibits operating or being in actual physical control of any moving vessel—that is not anchored or moored—while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But Georgia’s law goes even further by forbidding any person to “manipulate any moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard, or similar moving device” while under the influence. (Ga. Code Ann. §§ 52-7-3(14), 52-7-12(a) (2016).)

The term “vessel” includes “every description of watercraft, other than a sailboard or homemade or inflatable raft, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” (Ga. Code Ann. § 52-7-12(o) (2016).)

Subject to these definitions, a person can generally be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) for operating a vessel while:

  • under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any other intoxicating substance “to the extent that it is less safe for the person” to operate the vessel, or
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more within three hours of boating.

(Ga. Code Ann. § 52-7-12(a) (2016).)

BUI Penalties

The penalties for a Georgia BUI depend on a number of factors, including whether the operator:

  • has prior BUI convictions within the past 10 years, and
  • had a person under the age of 14 in the vessel or was towing such a person on water skis, a surfboard, or a similar device.

First Offense

A first-offense BUI is a misdemeanor. For a first offense, there is generally $300 to $1000 in fines, 24 hours to 12 months jail time, and at least 40 hours of community service.  

All BUI offenders—including first offenders—are required to complete a “DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program,” and a clinical evaluation for alcohol and drug dependency.

(Ga. Code Ann. § 52-7-12(m)(1) (2016).

Second Offense

A second BUI conviction within a ten-year period is a misdemeanor and carries $600 to $1000 in fines, 72 hours to 12 months jail time, and at least 30 days of community service. (Ga. Code Ann. § 52-7-12(m)(2) (2016).)

Third Offense

A third BUI conviction within a ten-year period is a “high and aggravated” misdemeanor. Boaters convicted of a third-offense BUI generally face $1000 to $5000 in fines, 15 days to 12 months in jail, and at least 30 days of community service. (Ga. Code Ann. § 52-7-12(m)(3) (2016).)

Fourth Offense

Generally, a fourth BUI conviction within a ten-year period is a high and aggravated misdemeanor. However, if all three prior offenses occurred on or after May 15, 2013, the fourth offense is a felony. Fourth-offense BUIs carry $1000 to $5000 in fines, and 90 days to five years imprisonment, and at least 60 days of community service. (Ga. Code Ann. § 52-7-12(m)(4) (2016).)

Additional Penalties for Carrying Passengers Under 14 Years Old

A BUI offender who had a passenger under the age of 14 in the boat or was towing such a person on water skis, a surfboard, or a similar device can be convicted of child endangerment in addition to BUI. A first or second child endangerment conviction is a misdemeanor and carries up to $1,000 in fines and/or a maximum of 12 months in jail. Third offenders face a felony conviction, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines and one to three years imprisonment. (Ga. Code Ann. §§ 16-12-1(d), 52-7-12(l) (2016).)

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to an Attorney

BUI is a serious offense, and Georgia’s law covers many different boating and water-related activities. If you’ve been arrested for BUI, talk to an experienced attorney to review the facts of your case and help you understand the consequences you might face.

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