New boating safety laws in place for Memorial Day weekend

pramati@macon.comMay 24, 2013 

Memorial_Day_Feature

A boat pulls an inflatable raft at Lake Tobesofkee on Memorial Day 2011.

WOODY MARSHALL — Woody Marshall

Boaters hitting the water this holiday weekend should keep in mind some changes made in operating watercraft.

The most notable change for boaters is that the blood alcohol limit has been reduced from .10 to .08 -- the same limit for motorists, said Sgt. Tony Fox of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“I don’t know what impact it’s going to have,” he said. “We hope people refrain from alcohol (while operating watercraft) regardless of the level it’s dropped. I hope we won’t see a rise in the number of (boating-under-the-influence-of-alcohol cases).”

Fox said there were 118 boating accidents in Georgia in 2012, including 12 fatalities. There were 180 BUI arrests last year.

The change in the blood-alcohol limit is one of several changes to boating regulations, Fox said. For example, it’s now illegal for boaters to operate watercraft if they have deliberately inhaled chemicals such as paint or glue.

A number of safety regulations also have been added or changed. The state has changed the mandatory age for children wearing life vests at all times on a boat from anyone 10 years old and younger to anyone 13 and younger.

In addition, children ages 12-15 operating personal watercraft such as jet skis must take a boating safety course or be accompanied by an adult. Those children also can no longer operate the watercraft by themselves while in sight range of an adult.

Beginning July 1, 2014, anyone born after Jan. 1, 1998, will have to take a boating education course before legally operating a boat, Fox said.

“I suspect (the changes were brought about) because we had some high-profile boat incidents which caught the public’s attention,” Fox said. “That probably has something to do with it.”

Doug Furney, the ranger at Lake Tobesofkee, said the blood alcohol limit change for boaters won’t have a major impact in Bibb County, because a county ordinance already prohibits alcohol at the park and lake.

The safety changes, however, such as changing the age of children wearing life vests, could make a difference, he said.

“One of the biggest changes was the personal vests,” Furney said. “That’s one that’s all across the state. You can’t do (a county) ordinance with boating laws. ... It’s common sense that everyone ought to be wearing life jackets.”

The DNR received a grant as part of National Safe Boating Week to promote wearing life jackets at all times on a boat, along with other safety tips.

Furney said he’s anticipating large crowds for the holiday weekend, noting that attendance has been light over the past three months because of bad weather. However, the National Weather Service is predicting clear skies for the weekend, with a high of 89 on Memorial Day.

“We’ll probably get 300 to 400 boats on the water and several thousands in the parks,” Furney said.

Ben Battle, a ranger at Lake Sinclair, said he’s also expecting big crowds, especially since it’s opening weekend for the park and lake.

“We’ve been getting calls steadily from people the last couple of weeks,” he said. “We should be pretty close to capacity.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-44334.

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