Boating Accidents On Lake Burton and Lake Rabun

The law firm of McDonald & Cody, LLC has litigated 5 wrongful death cases in the past 5 years that involve the death or serious injury to either boaters or swimmers on Lake Burton and Lake Rabun. Many of these boating related injuries could have been avoided. Typically, the boating related injury is a direct result of the vessel operator not paying attention or poor lighting conditions, usually at night. Recently, a Complaint was filed in Cherokee County against a boat operator who was involved in a death on Lake Seed (link to the complaint here).

Legal Restrictions for Operating a PWC or Vessel

In order to legally operate a boat or a Jet Ski (sometimes referred to as a PWC personal water craft), the operator must legally be 13+ years of age, have a boating license issued by the State of Georgia or have completed the boater’s safety course, abide by all boater’s rules and regulations published by the state, and obey all safety requirements. No one under the age of 12, by law, is allowed to operate a PWC (personal water craft) or a boat that is 16 feet or longer in length from bow (front) to stern (back). However, if the vessel or PWC is less than 16 feet in length and has a motor that is less than 10 horsepower, anyone under 12 can operate the boat or jet ski as long as a responsible, competent adult accompanies him or her.

Persons 12 to 15 years in age cannot legally operate a PWC or vessel that is longer than 16 feet in length. They may however operate a PWC or boat that is less than 16 feet in length as long as they have passed a boater’s safety and education course approved by the DNR (department of natural resources) or are accompanied by a responsible and competent adult. Lake Burton and Lake Lanier are lakes where many young people often operate vessels without proper supervision.

If a person is 16 or older, he or she can operate any boat, vessel or PWC on any Georgia state water as long as they have proper identification on board. There is a fine for not carrying your Boater Education Card when one is required. A majority of the citations are issued by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. All cases on Lake Lanier are handled in Hall County State Court or Forsyth County State Court. There are few cases that reach the Gwinnett County State Court.

Police Regulating The Waters

Beach bottle

Georgia law officers patrol the waters in Georgia. Their job is to make the waters in Georgia safe and pleasant for all boaters, fishers and spectators. To make their job easier and your experience on the water more enjoyable, it is advised to obey any and all laws set forth pertaining to the water. For instance, it is against the law to consume alcoholic beverages and operate a PWC, vessel or boat. Doing so impairs your judgment and slows your reaction time, creating hazardous situations and circumstances for you, the passengers on board your vessel and everyone else on or in the water. If convicted for committing this crime, your boating privileges are revoked until a DUI Alcohol and Drug Use Risk Reduction program approved by the DDS (department of driver’s services). You will also be charged with a misdemeanor, a fine up to $1,000 and possible jail time. If anyone under the age of 14 is on the boat while the operator of the boat is under the influence, then a separate charge of child endangerment can, and probably will be, tacked on to the boating under the influence charge. So be smart and obey all laws, rules and regulations set forth. If you are cited for a violation on the lake be prepared to file an appeal to preserve your boating privileges (much like a DUI ALS appeal) (link to ALS BUI).

Because of the multiple boating deaths statewide in Georgia the past few years, the Kile Glover Boat Education Law took effect July 1; which changed the acceptable blood alcohol content level to operate a boat from .10 to .08 and made it so boaters born after January 1,1998 must complete a mandatory boater safety course. The law was named after the stepson of the singer, Usher, who was 11 years old when he was killed in a boating accident in 2012 on Lake Lanier due to injuries from being struck by a personal water craft while he was riding on a tube being pulled by a boat.

How To Avoid Boating Collisions

  • Maintain a proper look out sight and sound at all times
  • Keep a safe speed, slow enough to be able to make an evasive move to avoid a collision; the factors to determine what a safe speed are:
    • Visibility
    • Traffic
    • Agility of the vessel
    • Draft Wind and current
  • Calculate the risk of a collision at all times
  • When traveling through a narrow channel, stay to the starboard (right) side of the outer channelOrdinary, responsible care applies just as it would if one was operating a motor vehicle on the road

What Have We Learned?

Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to operate a PWC or vessel at any time, children between the ages of 12 and 15 are allowed to operate a PWC or vessel less that 16 feet and has a motor with less than 10 horsepower accompanied by a responsible adult. Anyone 16 years and older can operate a boat, vessel, or PWC as long as he or she has proper identification on board. Anyone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not allowed to operate a boat, vessel, or PWC. The fine and consequences are described as well. Listed are ways to avoid a boating collision and the proper precautions to take to do so. Boat safely! Sam Sliger of McDonald & Cody, LLC and Gus McDonald of McDonald & Cody, LLC regularly handle criminal and civil litigation in this specialized area.