Boating is fun, but be sure to follow the laws!

By Dale Kramer

With boating becoming more and more popular, our waterways become crowded at times. Playing it safe can keep a good day from going bad. Here are a few rules which tell you what your responsibilites are, and will make sure that your time on the water provides nothing but the best in fun.

Just as you must have a vehicle registration for your car, you need to have a registration and a validation decal to legally operate your boat on public waters. To do this, you register your craft in the state where it is used the most. If you should move to a new state, the old registration is valid for 60 days. Most states do make exceptions for boats that are not propelled by an engine. Georgia makes this exception. However, some states require all boats to be registered. Best to check with the state where the boat will be registered.

Once the boat is registered, the document must be kept on board whenever the boat is in use. Then it will be available for inspection if an enforcement officer asks to see it, whenever the vessel is being operated. It is a good idea to laminate the registration card for carrying on board your personal watercraft.

There are also rules for displaying your registration number and validation decal. First, the number must be painted, applied as a decal or affixed somehow to both sides of the bow of the craft.

These numbers must be at least three inches high and in BLOCK letters. They are placed so that they can be read from left to right.

Also, the color of the numbers must contrast with that of the bow.

All registration numbers begin with letters that are the abbreviation of the state that it is registered in. These letters must be separated from the numbers which follow by a space or hyphen. For example: GA 3717 ZW or GA-3717-ZW. No other numbers may be displayed on either side of the forward half of the vessel.

Validation decals must be affixed within six inches of the registration number. Also, the boat registration is good for three years.

Registration forms are available at any Department of Natural Resources office or from most marine dealers.

If something happens to the boat, like if it is sold, destroyed, abandoned, lost, stolen then recovered, the owner of the boat must notify the agency which issued the registration within 15 days. This is also true if the registration papers or the owner’s address has changed.

Many states have laws governing the age at which you may legally operate a boat. This legal age may depend on the horsepower, size or type of vessel. In some states, when a certain age is reached, that person may be allowed to operate the craft if there is an adult on board to supervise.

In Georgia, no person under 12 years of age may operate any boat that is over 16 feet in length or is powered by a motor more than 30 horsepower.

Also, no one under 12 can operate a boat less than 16 feet long that is non-motorized or has an engine under 30 horsepower unless a competent adult is present.

Legal age in Georgia is 16 years old, but they must have all of the needed identification.

Personal Water Craft is different and we will talk of this in another article.

Also, in many states, the persons who will operate the vessel must take and successfully complete a boater education course. These are given by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. While not mandatory in Georgia, the course is strongly recommended.

As with your car, negligent and reckless driving of a vessel is against the law. Reckless operation is defined as “the failure to exercise the care necessary to prevent an accident which could endanger life, limb or property.” This also includes anything that is being towed behind the boat.

Some examples of reckless operation or gross negligence that are illegal are taking your boat into restricted areas without regard for other boaters or other people on the water, also not paying attention to speed limits that are posted and wake restrictions.

Vessels should not get close to diver down flags or take the boat in a swimming area.

One of the most broken rules is that of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs cause impaired balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, impaired judgment and slow reaction time. Alcohol contributes to about one third of all boating accidents.

It not only is illegal to operate the boat while under the influence, it is also against the law to ski, sailboard or tube under the influence.

Operating a boat while intoxicated became a specific federal offense, effective Jan. 13, 1988. As with a vehicle, this carries heavy punishments. Those arrested for boating while under the influence may lose their privilege to operate a vessel until successfully completing a program for substance abuse. Violators are subject to a penalty of $1000.

If there is a child under 14 years-old on board, a separate charge of child endangerment can be filed.

Operating a vessel at speeds that may cause danger, injury or damage is illegal. Also, always maintain a safe distance from other boats and persons or objects in the water.

Be aware of and obey all regulatory markers, including those marked “idle speed” or “no wake.” At all times avoid hazardous water skiing or wake jumping.

Do not allow passengers to ride on the bow, gunwale transom, seat backs, seats on raised decks, or any other place where there may be a chance of falling overboard.

Boat operators should always be considerate of other boat operators even when stopping to anchor or moor. Keep in mind that it is illegal to anchor a boat in the traveled portion of a river or channel in such a way that it will prevent or interfere with any other boat passing through the same area.

Do not moor or attach a boat to a buoy, beacon, light or any other navigational aid placed on public waters by proper authorities. Also, it is illegal to move, displace, tamper with, damage or destroy any navigational aid; and be sure not to obstruct a pier, wharf, boat ramp or access to any facility.

Following these simple and logical laws not only keeps you safe, but also everyone around you.

Dale is a coxswain and Officer in Charge in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 83 – Lake Seminole. He can be reached at kramers229@aol. com.

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