Georgia Boating Laws and Regulations

Georgia Boating Rules and Regulations:

In order to protect everyone on the water, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has formulated rules that every operator of a boat must follow. It is critical that everyone is aware of these rules and regulations and obeys them. Numerous accidents happen every year on the water that could be avoided if operators followed these rules.

As of July 1, 2014, all persons born on or after January 1, 1998, must have completed a boating education course approved by the department to operate a motorized vessel on the waters of that state. A person is exempt if they are 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.

How to Get a Boating License in Georgia?

First you must take a boater's education course. You can choose whether you would like to take the course online or in a classroom. If you successfully complete the online course, you will receive a Georgia Boating Safety Certificate in the mail. If you would prefer to take the course in person, contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to locate a classroom course in your area. Some courses are free while others course cost $29.99.  

Before Going Out on the Water:

Before you make your voyage onto the water, there are some things you need to take care of first:

First be familiar with all of Georgia's boating laws and regulations.  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 are not subject to this rule.

The registration number must be painted, applied as a decal, or affixed another way to both sides of the bow. The number must read from left to right on both sides and the number must be in three-inch-high block letters. No other numbers can be displayed on either side of the bow.

Make sure that you have the required equipment on board. All vessels must have at least one Personal Floatation Device (PFD) for each person on board. Children under the age of 13 are required to wear the PFD at all times while the vessel is moving. People must wear a PFD while being towed that is properly fitted and fastened. Ensure that you have a fire extinguisher on board that is in working condition and is easily accessible. Non-motorized boats are not required to have fire extinguishers on board.

Who Can Operate a Motorized Boat in Georgia?

  • A person less than 15 years old may not operate any vessel 16 feet in length or longer
  • A person 12 years or younger may legally operate a vessel less than 16 feet long powered by 30 horsepower or less if they are accompanied by a competent adult.
  • A person 12 through 15 years of age may operate a personal watercraft or vessel less than 16 feet in length if they have either passed a boating education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources, or they are accompanied by a competent adult
  • A person 16 years or older may operate any boat if they have a driver's license on board

Who May Operate Personal Water Craft (PWC) in Georgia?

  • No one under the age of 12 may operate a PWC
  • A person 12 through 15 years of age may operate a PWC if they have passed a boating education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources, or they are accompanied by a competent adult
  • A person 16 years or older may operate a PWC if they have a driver's license on board

What Should I do When Encountering Other Boats?

Georgia Boating laws and regulations are different than the rules related to driving an automobile. Boats do not have the right of way regulations that cars do but there are rules that boaters should follow to avoid an accident. To prevent accidents, operators should adhere to the three rules of navigation:

  1. Practice good seamanship
  2. Keep a sharp lookout
  3. Maintain a safe speed and distance

When Encountering Other Vessels

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

When operating a boat under sail, you must give way 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:

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 your 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, kneeboard, etc but the operator of the boat must be very careful when towing others to ensure they do not get injured. When towing 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 an PWC.

It is vital that boat operators follow these rules when towing 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: 

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 from drivers who fail to maintain a proper distance. Serious injury by a 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.

Penalty for Boating Under the Influence in Georgia:

As with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Boating Under the Influence (BUI) carries sizable penalties. 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.

A BUI is a serious offense and it is critical to retain representation from the very beginning. Our Attorneys are highly experienced in the area of DUI and BUI law so contact us today. 

Your Duty When There is a Boating Accident in Georgia:

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 to the owner of any damaged property if you are involved in a boating accident.

Contact Us

The Law Office of Richard Lawson and his team of Attorneys are here to help. While our office primarily handles DUI cases, we are here to help if you have a boating question. Feel free to contact our office if you have any questions. For more information on boating rules and regulations, check out the Official Boating website.  In addition, please visit the DNR website for information on Georgia wildlife and boating. 

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When you are arrested for DUI in Georgia, finding the right Lawyer is Job #1. At the Law Offices of Richard S. Lawson we will investigate your case and find the best possible legal defense to your DUI in Georgia. You are in good hands with Richard Lawson and his associates. We will work tirelessly to help you while compassionately holding your hand throughout the entire DUI Defense Process.

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At the Law Office of Richard S. Lawson, we have offices conveniently located throughout metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia. If we do not have a convenient office, we will come to you. We practice throughout Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. If your case is in an area we do not serve, we will find you an attorney in your area free of charge. Our office is part of a State-wide network of Georgia DUI Lawyers. Contact us 24/7 for immediate legal help. Our attorneys are standing by. Your DUI Case will not defend itself. Your Best Georgia DUI Defense Begins Here!