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Boating enforcement to focus on education
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Safer boating

What: Gov. Nathan Deal will give remarks on new legislation aimed at safer boating

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Laurel Park at 3100 Old Cleveland Highway in Hall County

Today’s remarks at Laurel Park by Gov. Nathan Deal are expected to focus on the boating under the influence portion of the boating safety reforms passed by the legislature and signed into law April 23.

The legal blood alcohol content for boating was lowered from .10 to .08, the standard for driving.

Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said the office hopes to bolster its supporting role to the Department of Natural Resources when it comes to lake law enforcement.

“Our plan is to continue as we have in years past, with an emphasis on safety education and supporting the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, with whom we have a great partnership and who has primary responsibility for the lake,” Wilbanks said. “Through some changes in the management of our manpower resources, we’re looking to increase our presence on the water without subtracting from our patrol presence on the streets or creating additional financial demands.”

While the legal BAC was lowered, legislation raised the life vest requirement for children, from 10 years to 13 for moving vessels. Most of the new boating laws take effect today.

Sgt. Mike Burgamy, DNR’s Lake Lanier supervisor, said the department doesn’t plan on changing its enforcement strategies, and will remain vigilant for potential boating infractions such as the life vest requirement.

“Basically, enforcement efforts won’t change. As we’re out on patrol, we’ll be actively looking for kids who look like they may be under the age of 13,” he said. “If the boat is moving, they have to have the life vest on, and strapped up.”

The only type of moving vessel exempt, Burgamy said, is indoor areas of a cabin cruiser, and no part of the law has changed, he stressed, except the age.

Burgamy stressed that although most rental companies ensure their boats are equipped with life vests, the responsibility to comply with boating laws rests on the boat operator, not the rental company.

“As an example, if I borrowed your car, even if it’s not my car, it’s my responsibility to know the state traffic laws if I’m going to drive it on state highways,” he said. “If you’re going to rent a boat, you have to know the state laws.”

Fines for life vest citations vary in county courts, Burgamy said.

“It just depends. If they’re issued a citation, they pay a fine depending (on) what county they’re in — the county sets up the amount,” he said.

But enforcement officers won’t be looking at the life vest rule with a vindictive eye, Burgamy said; the first year of enforcing the life jacket rule will emphasize education over prosecution.

“When a new law comes in effect, we tend to show a lot of leniency, and take the first year as an educational year,” he said. “They might be issued a written warning, for example.”

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