The Lanier tragedy Q&A

On Monday night, according to state rangers, a fishing boat piloted by Paul J. Bennett collided with a pontoon boat driven by Michael Prince of Buford on Lake Lanier.  Nine children were among the 13 people on the pontoon boat, including two of Prince's children who were killed.  Bennett reputedly fled the scene and was arrested later that night. The tragedy has spurred questions about how the accident happened and what are the boating rules on Georgia waterways.

Q: What type of vessels were involved in Monday's night crash?

A:  Prince's boat was an approximately 28-foot Avalon Pontoon -- or tritoon because it had three pontoons -- with 225 (horsepower) Yamaha engine, which was permitted to carry up to 17 people. Despite the engine size, it was a relatively slow moving vessel because of the drag caused by the boat design that caused it to ride lower in the water. The Bennett boat was a 21-foot Sea Fox, a fishing boat with a center console. It had a 150 Suzuki, 2.7 liter engine that reputedly had a speed up 40 knots (46 mph) and road higher on the water.

Q: How is right-of-way determined on the water?

A: It is determined by bow(front) and stern (rear) lights. Green lights are on the right of the bow and red lights on the left. A white light is in the center of the stern. If a motor boat operator sees green lights ahead it means he has the right-of-way and the boat he is approaching has the duty to turn to the right to get out of the way. If an operator sees red lights, or both red and green when approaching head on, he has a duty to turn right.

Q: Who had the right-of-way in the crash Monday on Lake Lanier?

A: That still under investigation.

Q: Can boat operators drink alcohol while driving?

A: Yes, boat operators who are 21-years-old or older can drink as long as they are not considered "under the influence."  A boat operator with an blood-alcohol content of .10 or higher is presumed to be unsafeand will be charged with boating under the influence, a misdemeanor punishable with up to a $1,000 fine and possibly 12 months in jail. A boater can also be charged with BUI  at a blood-alcohol content of .08 if the law officer determines that operators suffers from other indicators of impairment such as slurred speech or poor coordination.

Q:  How do the Georgia BUI law compare to other states?

A:  The vast majority of states have BUI laws that make a boating operator guilty of driving while intoxicated by a simple reading of .08, the same as with driving on a highway, according to state officials.

Q:  Do you need to be licensed to operate a boat?

A:  Anyone 16 or older can operate a motor boat without a license or without taking a boating education and safety class or passing any test.

Q: Do Georgia boaters have to wear life jackets?

A; That depends. Every boat has to have at least one life jacket for each person on the craft. Georgia law requires that children under age 10 wear the life jacket unless in a fully enclosed cabin.