How a Criminal Investigation for Boating Under the Influence Can Help Drunken Boating Accident Victims


November 14, 2013

In 2012, there were over 4,500 recreational boating accidents, which caused over 651 deaths and over 3,000 injuries nationally according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta indicate that alcohol is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities. The agency also indicates that Boating under the Influence (BUI) is just as dangerous as driving a motor vehicle under the influence. Because a BUI conviction and evidence collected by law enforcement when investigating a BUI offense may be critical evidence in a personal injury lawsuit, our Georgia drunken boating accident attorneys have provided an overview of the types of evidence that may be developed to establish intoxicated boating as well as relevant BUI laws.

Navigating Georgia waterways in a boat while intoxicated is strictly prohibited just like driving on the streets and highways of Georgia when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated ("O.C.G.A.") §52-7-12 (a) provides that "no person shall operate, navigate, steer, or drive any moving vessel, or be in actual physical control of any moving vessel, nor shall any person manipulate any moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard, or similar moving device while [under the influence of alcohol, drugs, a combination of alcohol and any drug, marijuana, glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor] ...." BUI laws apply to all types of watercrafts, including motor boats, sailboats, jet skis, water skis, and surf boards. Georgia's BUI laws fall under the Georgia Boat Safety Act, which apply to boaters on public waterways but not on private lakes.

A person can be arrested for "BUI per se" when their chemical test results in a blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") of 0.08 grams or more within three hours after being in physical control of a moving watercraft. Effective May 15, 2013, the "per se" blood alcohol level was lowered from 0.10 grams to 0.08 grams to mirror Georgia's DUI law. If the person's BAC is 0.05 grams or less, it is presumed that the person was "not impaired," but can be rebutted by evidence of erratic behavior or other clues of impairment observed by the officer. A person under the age of 21 can be arrested if their BAC is at least 0.02 grams. Obviously, a BAC test that establishes impairment can be critical evidence when pursuing a personal injury claim arising out of a drunken boating accident.

Georgia's implied consent law also increases the likelihood that there will be BAC test results. Georgia law requires a person to submit to chemical tests of blood, breath, urine in order to determine if a suspect is under the influence. If there is a refusal, it may be used as evidence of consciousness of guilt. This means that in drunken boating accident cases, the injury victim will usually be able to produce either BAC test results or evidence the boater refused to produce a sample under Georgia's implied consent law.

Even without chemical BAC test results, the officer's observations and investigation may be critical evidence in a subsequent civil lawsuit. An officer does not need probable cause to pull over a person's vessel on a waterway for safety checks. If signs of impairment are present, the officer can stop the boater and investigate to determine if the person is indeed under the influence. The officer will look for objective visual clues, such as the admission of drinking, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, fumbling, repeating questions or comments, the odor of alcohol on the person's breath, and incorrect or inconsistent answers.

While such observations suggest a likelihood of the presence of alcohol, they do not establish that the person was actually impaired, which is why officers conduct standardized field sobriety tests that assess the person's mental and physical impairment, such as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, one leg stand and walk and turn. The officer's observations before and during the BUI stop may be effective evidence during a civil action for damages where there a lower burden of proof than in a criminal prosecution.

Unfortunately for victims, Georgia law is lacking in terms of imposing financial responsibility for BUI's, as insurance is not required for a boat license. That may be an issue for lawmakers in the future. Fortuitously, many boat owners carry liability insurance for their boats and personal watercraft. Our Georgia intoxicated boating accident lawyers also investigate the possibility that third parties may be liable for our clients' injuries so that we can pursue the maximum compensation for our clients.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 Years of Legal Experience to Work For You

If you or your family member is injured in a drunken boating accident, our accident attorneys in Atlanta at Montlick and Associates have been helping injury victims and their families for over thirty years throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.