The Lake Lanier Water Safety Alliance has added to its to-do list as the group ramps up for the launch of its effort to educate boaters and lake visitors about water safety.
Interested residents, business owners and officials were on hand as the alliance hammered out some of its priorities at a meeting at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Buford Dam office on Tuesday. The alliance, which comprises lake-related agencies and organizations focused on safety concerns, was formed earlier this year by Gainesville’s Lake Lanier Association.
“The thing that triggered this (group) was last boating year’s tragedy when innocent people, kids, were killed,” Wilton Rooks said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Lanier had a summer of tragedy, including two incidents early in the season — one that killed two Buford boys, Griffin and Jake Prince, and one that killed a boy reported to be the stepson of entertainer Usher — that drew regional to international attention.
The alliance is planning to reach out to boaters, marinas and other lake users in an effort to increase water safety and reduce fatalities.
“The real agenda here is safety education,” Rooks said. “The idea is to get more and more people as certified, educated boaters.”
Right now, the group is working with the corps, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and other organizations to pool and expand their resources and ideas.
“There’s strength in numbers on this kind of issue,” Rooks said, adding that the group isn’t looking to “reinvent the wheel” of previous water safety efforts.
The current plan is to launch a “blitz” of educational efforts in January starting with the Atlanta Boat Show.
Exactly how that campaign will be achieved and what specific topics it will spotlight is still up in the air.
Val Perry, executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association, told the group he had attended meetings with the state Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner to discuss insurance rate incentives for residents who take educational courses on boating.
“Right now they’re doing research on what insurance companies do discounts,” Perry said. “They were very receptive, and I think that’s really a positive for us.”
Perry also said the Lake Lanier Association is working on installing solar lights on caution buoys on Lake Lanier.
The group still needs final approval on the project, and there are safety concerns if a light malfunctions or stops working. The initiative would start on Forsyth County’s portion of the lake since the county has helped with funding, Perry said.
Members of the alliance agreed that they would be interested in a similar effort, and members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary said they would be willing to periodically check the lights while they did their usual inspection of lake markers.
“If you’re out on the lake at night, unless you’ve got a full moon, it’s treacherous, especially at a low level,” Rooks said. “At a lot of the lower spots on the lake you don’t see (hazards).”
Also at the meeting, members discussed whether licenses should be required for boating, as is the case in neighboring Alabama. A representative from the Hall County Solicitor’s office told the alliance the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia was gathering feedback about a possible license requirement.
Alliance members had mixed opinions on the requirement, but several said they felt boaters should have some sort of boating education before hitting the lake. Capt. Mike England with the Department of Natural Resources said only 3,000 Georgia residents took educational courses through the agency last year.
Perry said in the past the organization decided a license requirement was not an effort it planned to push.
“We didn’t want Lake Lanier wagging its finger to the state on it,” he said.
The attorneys’ council also is lobbying to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters to 0.08 from 0.10. Gov. Nathan Deal has called on state lawmakers to do the same, expanding his request to cover hunters as well.
Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz, whose district includes a large portion of Lanier’s shoreline, attended the meeting and told members he thought the group should have a broader safety focus that encompasses drowning prevention. Lutz cited Hall County 911 statistics that showed only 10 percent of calls on Lanier were related to boating accidents or fires.
Other initiatives the alliance is considering include water safety pamphlets, signs or stickers to help keep lake users abreast with the laws and rules of the water. Members also sounded their support for broadcasting public service announcements on local radio or television. A direct mail campaign to the more than 50,000 area water vessel owners also is being considered.
“There are lot of ways we could get a message out to people,” Rook said. “We can look at this as a small undertaking or a very large effort.”