Georgia boating accidents down, ‘BUI’s’ up heading into Labor Day

Data reporting specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article.

Georgia boating incidents since 2010:

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015*

Drownings related to boating accidents 51 49 36 27 45 30

Boating under the influence139 165 180 160 182 191

Total boating incidents 135 109 118 112 99 91

Total injuries 74 66 53 59 78 48

Fatalities 16 11 12 16 12 17

Alcohol involved N/A 18 5 15 9 12

*As of Friday, Sept. 4

Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Tougher laws have again likely led to fewer boating accidents in Georgia, although state officials cautioned Friday they would take no chances heading into Labor Day and the last big boating weekend of the year.

The decline in accidents would coincide with an increase for the second year in a row of the number of Georgians cited for boating under the influence, as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has stepped up efforts to police the state’s lakes and waterways.

“We concentrate on these holiday weekends to look for boating issues and boating under the influence,” said Capt. Mike England with the Georgia DNR. “If you’re seeing more ‘BUI’s,’ hopefully we’re saving people and keeping them from accidents and injuries.”

The number of boating accidents is down to 91 so far this year (as of Friday), compared to 99 last year. Officers have already issued 191 BUI citations this year, more than last year’s total of 182.

There have also been fewer drownings so far this year (30 so far this year, compared to 45 last year), although both are still well below the average of 52 each of the past 15 years, according to numbers compiled by the state.

Not all of the numbers are celebratory.

Overall, 17 people so far this year have died as the result of a boating incident-related fatality, compared to just 12 last year. That’s just under the annual average of 18 since 1985.

Both the department and safety advocates pressed for changes in 2013, after a number of high-profile fatalities on Lake Lanier and elsewhere where alcohol played a major role.

That included the deaths three boys — Jake and Griffin Prince, 9 and 13, and 11-year-old Kile Glover — all of who are namesakes of the rules. The Prince boys died after a boat, steered by a drunken driver, collided with their pontoon craft in June 2012. Kile died a month later when a Jet Ski hit him and a teenage girl while they were being towed on an inner tube.

The state now requires anyone born after July 1, 1998, to take a state-approved boating safety and education course to operate a vessel; courses are also required for anyone who rents a watercraft with a 10-horsepower engine or larger.

England said it’s had an effect: More than 5,000 people passed a boating safety class last year. In 2013, 3,677 did.

The state also lowered the blood-alcohol content threshold from .10 to .08, the same legal threshold as for drunken driving in a car.

And anyone younger than 13 has to wear a life jacket. According to the numbers, from between the start of 2012 to mid-May this year, three of every four deaths involved someone not wearing a life jacket.