As safety officials prepare for July Fourth weekend on Lake Lanier, Cpl. Dan Schay with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources offered some tips for staying safe on one of the most visited lakes in the country.
Forsyth County News recently tagged along with DNR officials as they patrolled Lake Lanier on Thursday, June 30, as part of Operation Dry Water.
Here are some tips DNR officials want you to know before hopping in a boat or revving up a Jet Ski this weekend.
Appoint a designated driver
Heavy boat traffic is expected on Lake Lanier this weekend and that means more law enforcement.
Schay, who has been with the DNR for 15 years, said he estimates about 10 “or more” arrests before the weekend’s over.
Having a designated driver is important when consuming alcohol on the lake, he said.
Since Jan. 1, officials have issued 47 BUIs, or Boating Under the Influence citations, on Lake Lanier, which is about 33% of total BUIs across Georgia waterways.
If convicted, a person is not allowed to operate a boat until completing a Driving Under the Influence Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program.
They will also be charged with a misdemeanor which can be punishable with up to a $1,000 fine and possible jail time.
A blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher will result in a BUI of any person 21 years or older and for those under 21, there is a zero-tolerance policy.
He said it’s not difficult for officials to tell if alcohol is becoming a problem on a boat. Officials may look for “a moving violation, like causing a wake in a ‘no wake zone,’ or towing without an observer” as a sign of impairment.
A boater found over the limit with a child 14 or younger on board could also be convicted of child endangerment.
Wear a life jacket
DNR officials continue to stress the importance of wearing a life jacket. And children 13 and under are required to wear one. There should be a life jacket for every passenger on board.
“Kids 13 and younger need to be wearing a life jacket when [the boat is floating or moving],” Schay said. “A lot of people don’t realize that.”
Each person riding on a personal watercraft must also wear a life jacket regardless of age.
Schay said many drownings on the lake happen when people overestimate their swimming capabilities and don’t have a life jacket on in open water.
“It’s not a swimming pool out here,” Schay said. “It’s bigger and [people] just get more tired, and they don’t [realize] their limits.”
Lake Lanier has seen four drownings in the last month, three of those close to the shore or a dock.
Through SPLASH, a statewide water safety initiative, DNR officials can provide “loaner boards” around the lake with life jackets at public boat ramps and swimming areas that people can use while on the lake. Just remember to return it before leaving.
Rules of the road
Two of the most important “rules of the road” on Lake Lanier are to yield to the right and maintain a distance of 100 feet from another vessel, shore or dock.
Like a car, boats should try to stay to the right when passing another vessel head-on. If a boat is to your right, that boat has the right-of-way.
Powerboats must also always yield to sailboats under sail. These rules are the same for any kind of vessel on the lake, including personal watercraft.
The 100-foot law also includes all boats and states that any vessel must maintain a distance of 100 feet from any dock, pier, bridge shoreline or people in the water. If a vessel gets closer than 100 feet, the driver must slow down to an idle speed.
It is also illegal to jump the wake of another boat or follow closely behind it.
License to chill
Making sure you are licensed and permitted to operate a vessel on Lake Lanier can make or break your holiday fun.
Residents born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, are required to take a course on boat education before operating any motorized vehicle on the lake, including a personal watercraft.
A person is only exempt if they are licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a master of a vessel, operating on a private lake or pond or a non-resident that has proof they have completed an approved boater education course or equivalent examination from another state.
Children under the age of 12 may not operate a PWC or a vessel 16-feet-long or more.
Children aged 12-15 may operate a PWC or a vessel less than 16-feet-long with the proper completed educational courses.
Those 16 and older may operate any kind of vessel with the proper educational courses and proper identification, like a driver’s license or any government-issued ID.
Let’s wrap this up
Lake Lanier can be an excellent place to relax with friends and family.
“We want you to come out here and have fun, enjoy yourselves, but we want you to be safe,” Schay said. “And we’ll be out checking to make sure of that.”
For more information about lake safety, boating rules of the road or licenses and permits, visit gadnrle.org/boating-rules-regulations. For a boating education course, visit gadnrle.org/boating-education.
To learn more about Operation Dry Water, visit operationdrywater.org.