Mungo Jerry had the classic “In The Summertime” where they spoke of the joys of the warm weather, pretty women, having a drink and going fishing or swimmin’ in the sea. It was a true one hit wonder, but it’s a fun song about the leisurely days of summer.
So you hear the song and think you’re going to have a great summer day, floating down the Ocmulgee in a tube, have a few PBRs (Pabst Blue Ribbon for the un-Southern) and hang out with your lady? What could go wrong you think? Can’t get in too much trouble on the Ocmulgee, right? Alas, we have laws to prevent you from having too much fun, so you might want to leave the PBR behind and instead bring lots of bug repellent.
In Georgia, we have a boating under the influence law. It was souped up in 2013 to help put a stop to the tragic deaths happening on Georgia’s lakes and rivers by boaters who were under the influence while operating their vessels. For BUI (Boating Under the Influence), the law simply says that “No person shall operate, navigate, steer, or drive any moving vessel, or be in actual physical control of any moving vessel, nor shall any person manipulate any moving water skis, moving aquaplane, moving surfboard, or similar moving device…” while under the influence. Is a raft a moving vessel? According to the PoPo it is, and I can’t say I disagree with them. If being on water skis drunk is a crime, what would be different about being on a floating tube? Nothing.
So there you are, getting blitzed on PBR and soaking up the rays, when up pulls the PoPo on his boat. The nice officer asks you if you’ve been drinking. “Drinking? Are you kidding me? Who would float down this muddy, shallow river sober?”, you retort. The officer mentions that you keep running into swallow areas and bumping up against trees on the bank, so it looks like you aren’t in control of the tube. Not realizing that you are about to go downtown, you say “Yep, I’m just letting the river carry me where it wants to go. I’m just being a happy drunk.” At this point, the nice officer pulls out a portable alco-sensor to take a breath sample and even still, you don’t realize that you are in trouble. But when he pulls out his plastic waterproof handcuffs and hooks you up, even in your drunken state, you realize the gig is up. Your friends are all laughing, thinking it’s a big joke, until they have to post your bond.
Back to the definition: a “moving vessel” is all Georgia says you have to be in control of on the waterway. Unlike the roads, where you have to be in control of a “motor vehicle”, which I’ve told you before could include a riding mower, scooter or other powered device, under Georgia’ s BUI law there is no motor requirement. A “moving vessel” means anything pretty much. I think you could get away with being drunk and swimming in the river, as there is no “vessel” involved, but as soon as you climb on the tube, you’re toast.
There is actually a bill pending in the Legislature to make it legal to float down a Georgia river while intoxicated. It has passed the House and is headed to the Senate. If passed by both Houses, the law would go into effect on July 1, halfway “In The Summertime.” As Mungo Jerry opined: “We’re no threat, people, We’re not dirty, we’re not mean, We love everybody but we do as we please.” Just be careful about thinking you can do as you please, we’ve probably got a law for that.