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Georgia law designates the following dangerous operating practices as illegal.

PWC jumping wake of a boat

Reckless Operation of a boat or PWC is the disregard for the safety of persons or property. Examples are:

  • Water-skiing or dropping water-skiers close to swimmers, launching ramps, or other boaters
  • Jumping the wake of another boat within 100 feet of that boat or buzzing other boats
  • Causing damage from the wake of your boat or PWC

Improper Distance is not maintaining a proper distance while operating a boat or PWC or while towing a person on water skis or any similar device. The following operations are illegal:

  • Operating a boat or PWC or towing a person on water skis or any similar device at greater than “idle wake speed” within 100 feet of a:
    • Moored or anchored boat or any boat that is adrift
    • Dock, pier, or bridge
    • Person(s) in the water
    • Shoreline adjacent to a full- or part-time residence
    • Public park or beach or a swimming area
    • Marina, restaurant, or other public use area
  • Running around or within 100 feet of another boat at greater than idle speed unless you are overtaking or meeting the other boat in compliance with the rules for encountering other boats
  • Following closely behind another boat, jumping the wake of the other boat, or changing course or direction in order to jump the wake of another boat

Video: Georgia Speed and Distance

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Video Transcript

So we’re here in Georgia; there’s a lot of laws regarding speed and the distance you need to be between boats. What do people need to know?

Sergeant Mike Barr

Well, there’s a lot of speed factors on the water, especially if you’re operating a vessel or a personal watercraft. You need to always maintain a safe distance. There are certain situations that you need to—especially if you’re within 100 feet of another person, a boat, a bridge, a wharf, a piling, a day-use area, or private residences—that you need to be at idle speed only. Idle speed is defined as the lowest speed necessary in order to still maintain steering on that boat.


OK. So 100 feet away from pretty much any objects or buildings or docks—don’t go fast.

Sergeant Barr

That’s right. Now, there are some exceptions to that. If you’re passing a vessel using proper rules of the road to do that, then you may be within 100 feet. But even at that, you need to consider that these boats, these personal watercrafts, don’t have brakes on them. So if you get into a situation that’s close, you need as much distance as you can in order to effectively stop the vessel.


Do you have an incident that relates to why you need to have safe speed on the water?

Sergeant Barr

One comes to mind. Last year, two personal watercrafts were at very high speeds. As they came into a no wake zone, one was following another. The first operator saw the no wake buoy, immediately left off the throttle. The second person never saw him let off the throttle, hit the first boat, and impacted the passenger directly in the back. And we were uncertain that there might be a fatality. Luckily there wasn’t. But just a good example of why regulating your speed is so necessary, especially in close quarters.


Is there a speed limit out here on the water? I mean, some people think about that. There’s no signs anywhere, right?

Sergeant Barr

You know, we always relate what we do to driving a car because so many people operate a vehicle. There are no speed limits. There’s no speed limit signs. There’s no center road signs. There’s no turn signals. There’s no yield signs. So there’s a different set of rules that apply to when you start navigating on waters—on public waters. And you have to take that into consideration. It’s a different environment. Speed, when you stop a vessel—haven’t seen a brake pedal in one yet. When you go down to the water and you decide it’s time to stop, you literally have to power down, and the resistance of the water is what stops that vessel. You have to consider that the faster you go, the farther it takes for that vessel to stop.


Yeah. That’s a good point.