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Law agencies prepare to keep summer crowds safe on a full Lake Lanier

POSTED: May 25, 2013 12:54 a.m.
Nat Gurley/The Times

Hall County Sheriff's Reserve Unit Capt. Harry Chapman sits at the helm of one of the of the unit's vessels you don't want to see coming: the dive boat often used to retrieve drowning victims. Twenty-three auxiliary officers are currently active in the unit, 15 of them with lake experience, Chapman said. Most of the problems are at the south end of Lake Lanier due to increased boaters in the area, he said.

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A full lake plus a warm and mostly sunny Memorial Day weekend forecast likely means an especially busy Lake Lanier as local residents kick off the summer season.

Sgt. Bob Watterson with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said he expects to see more boat traffic, especially as there is less beach area along the shoreline thanks to waters almost 2 feet above full pool.

“We expect a lot of people to go out,” he said. “Probably the people who usually go out to the beach somewhere and hang out on one of these beaches won’t have anywhere to go, so they’ll probably be just motoring around, I would expect.”

Tim Rainey with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said parks won’t be closed on the lake but that there will be less sandy area.

To handle the crowd on the waters, local law enforcement is gearing up for patrols, stocking boats with life jackets to hand out and making plans to have a couple of extra boats on the water.

Last year, there were 10 deaths on the lake, including a boating accident that killed two young boys, Jake and Griffin Prince, and a personal watercraft incident that killed another young boy, Kile Glover.

Seventeen died on the lake the year before that, according to DNR numbers.

Local legislators put a focus on creating new laws this past session to reduce the number of fatalities, including a change in life jacket and boating under the influence laws, which took effect May 15. Children younger than 13 must wear life jackets when on a moving boat, and the BUI blood alcohol content allowed is now 0.08, down from 0.1.

Capt. Thomas Barnard with the Department of Natural Resources said the agency typically patrols with four boats on holiday weekends, but thanks to a partnership with the Gwinnett Police Department, they’ll have six boats out with a total of 12 law enforcement officials.

Sgt. Mike Burgamy with the DNR said patrols start in the afternoon and continue until traffic dies down.

The Hall sheriff’s office will have two deputies and two reservists on the water during daylight hours and on call after dark. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office also patrols the lake and will have two boats on the water from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with two people on each boat.

Barnard said the DNR also plans to use a helicopter tonight and Sunday night using night vision to find boats operating without lights and direct patrol boats to intercept them.

“When folks cut those off, you know obviously you’re blacked out ...” he said. “That results in usually very serious incidents.”

Authorities will be looking to enforce other rules as well, including the new life jacket requirements.

Watterson said the law enforcement agencies work closely with Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County to provide life jackets to those they cite for not having one. They’ll also be checking and restocking life jacket stations at area parks where people can borrow jackets while swimming.

Authorities also cautioned that drivers be designated if alcohol will be on board a boat.

“That way there’s no concerns of, ‘How much have I had, am I over the legal limit or not?’” Barnard said. “Legal limit’s been reduced now down to 0.08, just like it is on the highway.”

Barnard advised anyone who is not familiar with the rules to check out the Georgia Boating Handbook, which can be found at

“That’s key — if folks would take the time to read that handbook and get familiar with the boating laws if they have not taken a boater education course,” he said.

Watterson also noted that boaters should be aware of floating debris thanks to the high water levels.

Those not familiar with the lake also should pay attention to where they are in case of emergencies.

“Look at the lake map. Know your surroundings. Know, whether it’s Aqualand Marina, know where you put out at, and look ahead as to where you’re going, kind of like a float plan,” Barnard said. “That way if an incident does occur, you can give us an approximate location and be a lot easier to find.”


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