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Patrols take to Lanier as holiday kicks off boating season
WaveRunners patrol waters Memorial Day through Labor Day
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Lt. Robert Brower, center, with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, talks about riding technique Saturday with Deputy Carl Scruggs, left, and Deputy Brad Kiser during a training session at Lanier Point Park. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Holiday events

Memorial Day Parade
When: 10 a.m. Monday
Where: Starting at First Baptist Church on Green Street and continuing to Spring Street, Gainesville

Memorial service
When: 11:30 a.m. Monday
Where: Memorial Park Cemetery veterans section, 2030 Memorial Park Drive, Gainesville

“Duty, Honor, Country”
Northwinds Symphonic Band concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: First Baptist Church, 751 Green St. NW, Gainesville
How much: Free
For more information: www.northwindsband.com

Over the summer, Lake Lanier is covered with personal watercraft.

From Buford Dam to Brown’s Bridge, it is hard to go one nautical mile without seeing the fast moving vessels.

Since 2003, there have been two more PWCs on the water, but recreation is not the goal their operators — it’s safety and security.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office has been utilizing two WaveRunners, courtesy of a loan
program through Yamaha, to patrol the some 540 shoreline miles of the lake in Hall County.

The PWCs supplement the office’s patrol boat, which cruises the lake year-round.

Starting Memorial Day weekend and running through Labor Day, the WaveRunners patrol the waters under the supervision of the sheriff’s office reserve program.

A group of about 28 volunteer officers, a compilation of mostly of retired officers or those who moved to the private sector but still want to contribute, make up the reserve program.

Those officers volunteer to take the reins of the WaveRunners.

The group works as a supplement to the patrol boat, giving the officers more manpower on the water.

“The fact that we have two more units instead of one gives us a wider area of coverage and sometimes it’s a faster response to the incidents,” said Capt. Harry Chapman, director of the reserve program.

PWCs, Chapman says, have an advantage of the large, propeller-powered boats.

“They’re much easier and much more maneuverable in tight places and shallow water,” he said.

And the response time to a call is usually much quicker with the smaller crafts.

“These folks are already out there taking care of things and securing the scene and getting things stabilized so when we come in and get ready to do a rescue or a recovery operation, it’s already there,” said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, spokesman for the department. “It’s a tremendous asset.”

With those quicker response times, officials say, comes the greater likelihood a possible body search can become a rescue search.

In the past, emergency response teams were usually reactive to drowning calls, often arriving too late because the vastness of the lake, coupled with the lack of manpower to patrol the area.

Now, with the WaveRunners, the chances of rescue grow.

“We hope to be able to do a search-and-rescue other than a body recovery,” said Chapman. “That’s kind of a different concept that we’ve been used to in the past.”

They’re also useful in keeping other boats out of dive areas, making the job a little safer for the emergency divers.

“We’ve seen several times where we’ve been able to use the WaveRunners, especially in drownings, to keep other boat traffic out of the dive areas,” Chapman said. “They’re much more effective than the boats.”

But they do not replace the boat.

“We always work very closely with the boat,” Chapman said. “There are a lot of things the boat is not able to do, but there are a lot of times when the boat has to give support for the WaveRunners.”

The PWCs run every Saturday and Sunday from mid-morning to sunset and the reserve officers donate their time to the service.

“We like to emphasize to (Hall residents) that these folks are volunteering and not getting paid a dime,” Wilbanks said. “They’re doing this for free and it’s benefiting the residents.”

And officials say the hard work is noticed by locals.

“On numerous occasions (residents) have mentioned the presence of the WaveRunners and the patrol boat coming on the water and how much they appreciate seeing those folks out there,” Wilbanks said.