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Lower blood alcohol level now in effect for boaters

POSTED: May 16, 2013 12:24 a.m.

Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at a press conference today at Laurel Park about the new boating under the influence law.

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Law enforcement officers joined Gov. Nathan Deal at the Laurel Park Boat Ramp on Wednesday to deliver the message that a blood alcohol content of .08 is the law of the land and the water.

New boating under the influence laws that took effect Wednesday lower the legal limit of blood alcohol to .08 percent for someone operating a water vessel — the same standard for operating an automobile — and imposes escalated penalties for repeat offenders similar to driving under the influence laws. It also raises the age of children who must wear a life jacket from 10 to 13 years old.

The law is named after Jake and Griffin Prince, two children who died in a boating accident on Lake Lanier last year.

The Buford boys were killed after a fishing boat rammed into the pontoon boat their family and three other families were riding on last June. The fishing boat operator faces several charges, including homicide by vessel and boating under the influence.

“Tragedies can’t be undone,” Deal said. “But sometimes they can offer insight to the problem that created them in the first place as well as give us the fuel to be able to solve those problems in the future.”

The BUI limit for boating used to be .10, but there were two accidents on Lake Lanier last year involving children that brought a lot of attention to the issue of boating safety.

The stop was part of a tour by Deal and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams named “.08: Where the Rudder Meets the Road.” They visited several popular boating destinations in the state.

Deal said it’s important to educate the public that BUI and DUI laws now have the same standard because people may think more recreationally about boating than driving.

“But the truth of the matter is, it is as dangerous on the water as it is on our roadways,” Deal said.

Officials also announced the start of “100 Days of Summer HEAT,” the annual state campaign against drunken driving beginning Monday. DNR officials will participate for the first time.

Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver said DNR will partner with the other agencies involved in the summer program, including the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, the Georgia State Patrol and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. The officers have training that allows them to do field tests on people in boats.

This summer will show whether the public embraces drinking less on the lake, Weaver said.

“We’ll have to gauge that as the summer goes along,” he said.

Weaver said he encourages people drinking in vessels to have a designated operator.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office will be an increased presence this summer, including some reserve deputies volunteering their time, Sheriff Gerald Couch said. The county department has a patrol boat, and two officers recently got marine training from one of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center locations.

“That’s something we haven’t had before,” he said.

Couch said he hopes in the future to buy another patrol boat. The office also has some personal watercraft.

DNR’s boating statistics from 2012 show that, in the Gainesville law enforcement region, 67 people were cited for BUI violations, and 60 of those were at Lake Lanier. Five people died in boating accidents on Lake Lanier last year.


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