Memorial Day weekend is typically seen as the “unofficial” start of summer and boating season. It is the 78-hour period that began Friday, May 22nd at 6 PM and will end at midnight on Memorial Day, May 25th.
During the holiday, many Georgians will enjoy spending time with family and friends at our numerous lakes and waterways. While it's great to kick back, relax and have fun, please remember that accidents can and do happen.
Last year, there were two drownings, thirty-two BUIs, nine boating “incidents,” and five boating incident-related injuries. Below are some tips that will hopefully make this boating season safer than the last:
- Use life jackets/vests—All boats are required to have personal flotation devices that are the appropriate size and type for each passenger on board. All children under the age of 13 MUST wear a life jacket/vest while onboard any moving vessel.
- Be mindful of the number of passengers AND the weight of equipment on the watercraft. Check your boat's passenger limit or weight limit so you know how many people it can safely carry, along with any needed equipment.
- Use navigational lighting at night to avoid collisions and other dangers.
- Keep your speed under control and be aware and steer clear of other boaters nearby.
- Make sure you know Georgia's boating laws.
- Have a designated operator. Just like you would have a designated driver remain sober to get everyone home safely after a night out; having a designated boat operator reduces the number of boating accidents and possible BUIs.
In case you didn't know, many of Georgia's boating fatalities involve alcohol. Alcohol impairs judgment and makes people more likely to take risks and make poor decisions.
When a person is under the influence, their reaction time is also impaired. If an emergency arises, it is important to act quickly and rely on your reflexes.
Alcohol can also greatly impact a boater's peripheral vision, night vision, focus ability, and balance (most boating deaths involve falling overboard).
Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is a serious offense that can result in fines, jail time, and loss of boating privileges. Georgia's BUI and DUI laws are very similar. Most BUI charges happen when boating police stop a vessel to make safety checks for life jackets/vests and fire extinguishers. These safety checks can be done at any time and for any reason. Although police may do safety checks without justification, they are not allowed to begin a BUI investigation without some sign of alcohol/drug use. These signs can include red, glassy eyes, detecting an odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and open/empty alcohol containers.
If boating police for any reason stops you, stay calm and be cooperative. Say as little as possible and instruct your passengers to remain quiet and refrain from any suspicious activity. Have your boat registration handy, as well as the vessel's requirements for passenger/weight capacity. No one wants to have contact with the police, but things are much easier when you are prepared.
The Law Offices of Richard Lawson would like to remind everyone to be safe by using life jackets while you are out boating and drinking responsibly. Happy Memorial Day!