Julie Long, her husband and three young children found out the hard way that their newly purchased boat was leaky.
The family had been on Lake Lanier fishing Sunday between River Fords Park and Browns Bridge for close to four hours when they decided it was time to head back in shortly before 7 p.m.
Long’s husband, Shane, took up the trolling motor, tried to crank the main outboard motor, and it would not start. “He said, ‘We’re taking on some water,’ ” Long recalled.
Despite a thorough inspection beforehand and hours on the water with no problems, they discovered the 17-foot bass boat had some issues. As water began springing in and reaching up to their ankles, Shane Long was able to steer the boat to a tiny island and his wife called for help using a cell phone.
By the end of their ordeal, all but the tip of the boat’s bow was sunk. A Georgia Department of Natural Resources boat rescued the family from a steep, rock-covered outcropping. The children, ages 11, 8 and 7, were treated and released at a hospital for mild symptoms of hypothermia. None of the children were ever submerged in the frigid waters and the boat only sank after help arrived.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Long said Tuesday.
Sgt. Ron Burgamy, one of two DNR officers who made the rescue, said the family probably could not have prevented the incident because the boat they purchased on Saturday had all appearances of being a sound structure.
The family did the right things by having life jackets, a flash light and cell phone, Burgamy said.
In March, traffic is still light on Lanier, though there are folks who boat year-round, he said.
To avoid hypothermia, boaters should dress carefully according to the weather conditions, Burgamy said.
Long said her children were dressed with jackets, hats and gloves, and they were never more than knee-deep in water. Once the sun set and the temperature dropped, the urgency of their situation set in, she said.
“They say if you’ve got a life jacket, always stay in the boat – never jump in the water and try to swim to shore,” she said. “Just because the weather’s warm, it doesn’t mean the water’s warm – it can fool you big-time.”
Long said since Sunday, her family had been inundated with calls of concern about what happened to them, and she was worried some people were hearing the wrong version of events.
“I just wanted the fact to be set straight,” she said.