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The Basics of Boating in Georgia – Boats and Personal Water Craft (PWC)

Let’s face it, Georgia summers are hot! With the school year coming to a close and summer getaways on the brain, we are looking to stay cool. One of the best and greatest ways to enjoy the weather, but also keep cool is enjoying the water. Recreational water activities are incredibly popular and we wanted to share some helpful tips before you hit the lake or ocean.

It is always important to be knowledgeable about the vessel you are on or operating. Often time’s passengers and operators don’t know or understand the terminology of boating laws. Review the following terminology and hopefully you can grasp what some of the laws mean.

Vessel: Any watercraft that is used for transportation on water (excluding seaplanes).

Motorboat: A vessel that is powered by a mechanical device fueled by gas, diesel, or electricity.

Sailboard: A vessel resembling a surfboard that uses a free-sail system with a swivel-mounted mast not secured by guys or stays.

Starboard: Right side

Port: Left side

Bow: Front

Stern: Rear

Leeward: Downwind of a vessel.

No Wake Speed: The speed where a vessel doesn’t make a wake (no more than 5mph).

Personal Water Craft (PWC): Vessels that are less than 16ft in length. It uses an internal combustion engine, powered by a jet pump as its primary source of propulsion. These vessels are operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling.

Being educated as a passenger or operator of a vehicle is crucial. For many Georgia families, summers are spent on the water so introducing the basics to children and young adults is critical to their safety. It is imperative to point out where the fire extinguisher is on the vessel and to utilize lighting so other vessels can spot you. Last but not least, always wear a life preserver!

In Georgia, the following criteria must be met to operate a boat or personal watercraft (PWC):

Those less than 12 years of age:

  • May not operate any vessel over 16 feet in length.
  • May legally operate a vessel under 16 feet in length which is either non-motorized or powered by a motor of 30 horsepower or less only if they are accompanied by a competent adult.

Those 12 through 15 years of age:

  • May legally operate any vessel less than 16 feet in length, including a PWC only if they:
    • Have passed a boat education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources; OR
    • Are accompanied by a competent adult.
  • May not legally operate any vessel over 16 feet in length.

Those 16 years of age or older:

  • May operate any boat on the waters of Georgia if they have proper identification onboard.
  • All operators born after January 1, 1998 must have passed a boater education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources and have card on board to operate any vessel.

Competent Adult means a person of age 18 or older who is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and who is carrying proper identification.

Proper Identification means a driver’s license (or legible copy) or any other government issued identification that contains a description of the person, a photograph and birthdate.

We hope that the coming summer months are fun, but your safety and the safety of your loved ones come first. Become acquainted with the language, the vessel and Georgia law! We encourage you to visit the following website to learn more about boater safety:

For more information about this article, contact Kaine Law.

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