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Georgia Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12, the Georgia Boat Safety Act, criminalizes Boating Under the Influence (BUI), sometimes also referred to as Boating While Intoxicated (BWI). The law is, in some ways, similar to Georgia’s DUI laws, but there are some notable differences. BUI, like DUI, is a serious criminal offense, and a conviction can result in serious consequences. There are, however, a number of misconceptions regarding the potential consequences for a BUI conviction. Keep reading to get the answers to your questions about Georgia BUI / Georgia BWI.


O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12 states that a person may "operate, navigate, steer, or drive" any moving vessel, or be in actual control of any vessel, while:


  • Under the influence of alcohol to the extent that it is less safe for that person to be operating such a vessel,
  • Under the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for that person to be operating such a vessel,
  • Under the influence of any glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to the extent that it is less safe for that person to be operating such a vessel,
  • Under the influence of any combination of intoxicating substances to the extent that it is less safe for that person to be operating such a vessel,
  • That person's blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams or more at any time within three hours after operating a moving vessel from alcohol consumed before or during the operation of the vessel,
  • While “there is any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance present in the person’s blood or urine…without regard to whether or not any alcohol is present in the person’s breath or blood.”


It is important to not that, for the purposes of this statute, it does not matter whether you have been legally prescribed a drug. A person may be convicted of BUI/BWI even with a valid prescription, if he or she is deemed to be rendered incapable of operating a boat safely as a result of having taken such a prescription drug.


In BUI cases, breath tests and blood tests may be used as evidence of a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC), or as evidence of the presence of drugs in the person's system. When a BUI case is brought against an individual and a breath or blood test was conducted, there are certain presumptions that arise, depending on the BAC:


  • If the individual's BAC is 0.05 grams or less, there is a presumption that he or she was not under the influence of alcohol.
  • If the individual's BAC is over 0.05 grams but less than 0.08 grams, no presumption arises. The results of the test may be entered into evidence and factored into the determination of whether the person was under the influence. Additional evidence may also be taken into consideration, including the person's behavior, results of field sobriety testing, etc.
  • If the individual's BAC is over 0.08 grams, there is a presumption that he or she is in violation of the law.


It is illegal for a person under the age of 21 to operate a boat with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 or greater, a much lower standard than for individuals over 21.


To read more about BAC and how alcohol affects the body, read my blog post here.


Georgia BUI Penalties

What happens if you get a BUI in Georgia?

The answer depends on several factors. A person with one or more prior BUI convictions will be treated differently than a first-time offender.

First Offense Within 10 Years, or First Lifetime

A first BUI conviction within 10 years is treated as a misdemeanor. It carries the possibility of:

  • A fine of $300 - $1,000. With court costs and possible probation fees also tacked on, the actual amount that you may be required to pay can actually be much higher.
  • A period of imprisonment of up to 12 months. If a person's blood alcohol concentration was under 0.08 at the time of the offense, the entire jail sentence may be served on probation. If a person's BAC was over 0.08, all but 24 hours of a term of imprisonment may be probated. Probation in lieu of a jail sentence is at the discretion of the judge.
  • Community service. If a person's BAC was over 0.08 grams, 40 hours of community service will be required. If BAC was under 0.08 grams, then at least 20 hours of community service will be required, at the discretion of the judge.
  • Risk Reduction.
  • A Clinical Evaluation and treatment (if recommended).
  • 12 Months Probation, less any time spent incarcerated.

Second Offense Within 10 Years


A second BUI conviction within 10 years is also treated as a misdemeanor. It carries the possibility of:

  • A fine of $600 - $1,000. With court costs and possible probation fees also tacked on, the actual amount that you may be required to pay can actually be much higher.
  • A period of imprisonment of at least 90 days, and up to 12 months. All but 72 hours of this time may be served on probation, at the discretion of the judge.
  • At least 30 days of community service.
  • Risk Reduction.
  • A Clinical Evaluation and treatment (if recommended).
  • 12 Months Probation, less any time spent incarcerated.

Third Offense Within 10 Years

A third BUI conviction within 10 years is treated as a high and aggravated misdemeanor. The penalties lie somewhere between those for a misdemeanor and those for a felony. They are:

  • A fine of $1,000 - $5,000. With court costs and possible probation fees also tacked on, the actual amount that you may be required to pay can actually be much higher.
  • A period of imprisonment of at least 120 days, and up to 12 months. All but 15 days of this time may be served on probation, at the discretion of the judge.
  • At least 30 days of community service.
  • Risk Reduction.
  • A Clinical Evaluation and treatment (if recommended).
  • 12 Months Probation, less any time spent incarcerated.

Fourth or Subsequent Offense Within 10 Years

A fourth BUI conviction within 10 years is a felony conviction, unless the 10-year period commenced prior to May 15, 2013, in which case the offense is treated as a high and aggravated misdemeanor (see penalties above). A felony BUI carries the following penalties:

  • A fine of $1,000 - $5,000. With court costs and possible probation fees also tacked on, the actual amount that you may be required to pay can actually be much higher.
  • A period of imprisonment of at least one year, and up to five years. All but 90 days of this time may be served on probation, at the discretion of the judge.
  • At least 60 days of community service.
  • Risk Reduction.
  • A Clinical Evaluation and treatment (if recommended).
  • Five Years Probation, less any time spent incarcerated.

BUI Frequently Asked Questions


What kinds of vessels/boats are included in the prohibition?

The law defines a "vessel" as any kind of watercraft except for a sailboard or homemade or inflatable raft. It includes jet skis, sailboats, motorboats, and any other kind of watercraft that can be used as a means of transportation on water. It excludes things like "tubing" tubes and other platforms that float on the water and move only with the aid of a person's hands, arms, legs, or feet.

Does a BUI affect your driver's license in Georgia?

No, BUI has no effect on your driver's license or ability to drive in the State of Georgia. It does affect your ability to operate a boat on Georgia waterways, however.

Does a BUI affect your CDL in Georgia?

No, BUI does not affect your CDL or other driving privileges in the State of Georgia.

Is BUI a felony in Georgia?

Usually, no. In most cases BUI is treated as a misdemeanor offense. However, as discussed above, a person with 3 or more prior BUI convictions within a 10 year period will most likely be charged with a felony, provided the 10-year period began after May 15, 2013.

Other special circumstances related to BUI can result in a felony charge. If a person is boating under the influence and the death or serious injury of a child results, he or she will likely be charged with a felony offense under O.C.G.A. § 16-12-1, Georgia's law regarding "Contributing to the Delinquency or Dependency of a Minor."

Is a BUI the same as a DUI in Georgia?

While BUI does have some similarities to DUI offenses in Georgia, they are, in fact, separate offenses. They are alike in some ways, and different in some ways. They have the same legal blood alcohol limit (0.08 grams), and the laws have similar "less safe" provisions. A person suspected of BUI may be asked to submit to Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, just like a person suspected of DUI (read more about SFSTs here). Many of the sentencing requirements are the same for BUI as for DUI. There is one major difference, though: A conviction for BUI does not affect your ability to continue driving your motor vehicle, whereas a conviction for DUI does.

Which agency is responsible for regulating the state boating laws in Georgia?

If you are stopped for a suspected BUI, it will most likely be by the Department of Natural Resources.

Can passengers drink on a boat in Georgia?

Yes, it is not illegal for a passenger to consume alcohol on a boat, as long as the passenger never takes control of the boat.

In a BUI investigation, can I refuse to take a breath test?

By operating a boat on Georgia's waterways, you are presumed to have given consent for chemical testing of your blood alcohol concentration. Nonetheless, you still have the right to refuse a chemical test. However, if you are ultimately charged and a trial takes place, the jury may be told of your refusal to submit to a chemical test. You will also face an extended suspension of your boating privileges than you would have faced if you had consented to the test. You should discuss this with your Georgia Attorney.


Have questions that I didn't cover here?


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Why you should always have a Georgia Lawyer for a Georgia BUI / Georgia BWI case


Even if you believe your case is cut-and-dried, you should never go to court on a BUI case without consulting a Georgia Lawyer. There are many defenses in BUI cases, and you deserve a BUI Lawyer with the experience and know-how to examine each piece of evidence and discover whether any of these defenses might work for you. You owe it to yourself. Call me today.

URGENT: If you have been arrested for BUI in Georgia, you have only 10 business days to appeal the administrative suspension of your boating privileges. If you fail to act, your boating privileges will be suspended. Know your options. Get in touch today.




Writer

Kevin Fisher


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UPDATE


Georgia COVID-19 Shutdown

Some Georgia criminal court proceedings have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 / Coronavirus shutdown, but Kevin Fisher Legal is maintaining normal operating hours.

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