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US Coast Guard Auxiliary passes along boating tips

Education has made lake safer

POSTED: May 29, 2008 5:01 a.m.
STEPHEN GURR/The Times

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Officer Dave Wall teaches a boating safety course Saturday at the auxiliary's operations center near Aqualand Marina.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Chris Mercer didn’t have to take a boating safety course to legally pilot his 17-foot Sea Ray on Lake Lanier, but the Lawrenceville man didn’t think it could hurt.

"It makes my wife and my in-laws happy," Mercer said, in explaining why he was one of 25 people who took an eight-hour course given by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary at its operations center near Aqualand Marina. "When you’re taking the kids out on the boat, it makes them feel like you’re responsible. It makes everybody feel a little safer."

With Lanier at record low levels for this time of year, such courses are more important than ever, said Dave Wall, a flotilla staff officer for the local Coast Guard Auxiliary and one of two instructors who taught Saturday’s course.

"It’s more acute right now," Wall said. "It’s a more dangerous situation out there."

Many of Wall’s students were kids younger than 16 years old who took the class in order to legally operate boats or personal watercraft with adult supervision. They learned what’s known as the "rules of the road," from maneuvering and approaching other boats to handling wakes and docking, as well as numerous boating requirements.

Increased public education may have contributed to a drop in boating accidents and deaths on Lanier even as traffic has increased. In 1999, the numbers reached an all-time high, with 72 boating incidents, 52 injuries and eight deaths on Lake Lanier, according to data kept by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Last year on Lanier there were 43 incidents, 25 injuries and three boating deaths.

"Education’s helped," Wall said.

Steve and Kimberly Riggan, two Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers, took to the waters Saturday in their 22-foot Boston Whaler to look for any boaters who might need help, and to document and report any obstructions on the lake.

Steve Riggan said it’s important that boaters "not only heed the rules of the road, but be aware of the other hazards that have been exposed by low lake levels."

While boaters should always keep lake charts on board, "they need to make sure and subtract about 14 feet from the levels right now," Riggan said.

Mike McGannon of Dunwoody took advantage of the Coast Guard’s family rate for the course Saturday, bringing his children, ages 12 and 14, a 14-year-old niece, his wife and his mother to the class in preparation for taking delivery of a new 20-foot Cobalt ski boat.

McGannon said he first took a version of the safety course in 1980 or 1981.

"Even after boating on Lanier for so many years, this is a good opportunity for a refresher course," he said.

And it helps that his kids get a lecture on boating safety from someone in uniform.

"The parents don’t have to tell them," he said. "They get it from a different mouth."

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 29 is offering one-day boating safety courses throughout the year.



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