While it is now legal to float on a tube while under the influence of alcohol, it may not be possible everywhere in the state.
In May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 172, which went into effect July 1. According to the bill’s official summary, it revises the state code regarding “the types of vessels that are applicable to the operation of watercraft while under the influence of alcohol, toxic vapors or drugs,” among other purposes.
According to the bill, boating under the influence applies to “vessels,” or all watercrafts other than sailboard or inflatable rafts used as transportation on water.
It stipulates these inflatable rafts only include those “which render transportation with only the aid of such person’s hands, arms, legs or feet.”
This means the tubes often seen dotting North Georgia rivers, lakes and ponds can be manned under the influence.
But according to Ben LaChance, owner of Appalachian Outfitters, “most outfitters will still adhere strongly to their no-alcohol policies.”
LaChance said his company’s policy will continue to prohibit coolers on the premises.
“HB 172 only has meaning to the ‘breaking the law’ part of drinking and floating,” LaChance said. “For those of us who wish to maintain a family-friendly business model, we won't be changing just because of the new ruling.”
State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, said House Bill 172 and others like it come from a need for clarity.
“A lot of times this legislation comes out of real-life cases where maybe a law enforcement officer has interpreted the legislation or law in a way the General Assembly didn’t necessarily mean it to be interpreted,” Tanner said. “It’s important for us to go back and clarify that so officers understand what the intent was.”
Tanner said there were cases in the state of people being arrested for drinking alcohol while floating. The bill’s purpose was to clarify doing so would not be an issue if the person floating was not violating other laws, such as public intoxication.
Another portion of the bill applies to the need for lifesaving devices. It clarified life jackets or similar devices are not necessary on a tube that is within 100 feet of shore and on a lake, pond or other non-flowing body of water.
“There was some concern and there have been some cases where an individual that was out at a campsite on the lake, 20 feet off the shore on a flotation device, was being cited for not having a life jacket on their craft,” Tanner said. “This clarifies that, as long as you are within 100 feet of shore on a lake, pond or other nonflowing body of water, that it’s not required to have that life vest.”