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Sheriffs office, DNR prepare for busy holiday on Lake Lanier
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Cpl. Jason Roberson, right, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, talks Friday with Katie Mulls and husband Curt about the upcoming Memorial Day weekend while son Walker, 9, looks on during a safety inspection on Lake Lanier near Aqualand Marina. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Look for Splash, your guide to summer fun on Lake Lanier and around Northeast Georgia

As the mercury on the thermometers stretches higher, it can mean only one thing for Lake Lanier law enforcement — time to scrape the cobwebs off the citation books.

“This holiday weekend signifies the start of the summer and the start of the boating season for most,” Department of Natural Resources Cpl. Jason Roberson said at a Friday media event. “With that we’re expecting larger then normal crowds, and we’d like to start the year off in a safe manner.”

Lake Lanier will be patrolled by several law enforcement agencies, including several vessels from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and five DNR boats.

Col. Jeff Strickland with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said the department’s boats and personal watercraft will monitor boating traffic and beaches and watch for suspicious behavior around docks.

One major area of emphasis is going to be checking for proper safety equipment, a common mistake Roberson said a lot of boaters make early in the season.

“They just say, ‘Hey, it’s Memorial Day, let’s go to the lake,’” Roberson said. “And they kind of start without preparing. Where as the rest of the year they’re probably a little more prepared.”

According to Roberson, improper navigation lights is the No. 1 cause of fatal boat accidents, and 84 percent of all boating fatalities were due to victims not wearing life jackets.

But even if you forget, Strickland said two loaner life jacket stations have been set up at Clarks Bridge Park and River Forks Park as part of a Girl Scouts project.

Law enforcement will also be on the lookout for drunken boaters.

The DNR has partnered with Team Georgia for the last 15 years to promote the safe boating campaign and urge everyone to select a “designated skipper” before hitting the water.

Roberson said the blood alcohol content limit for boating under the influence is 0.1 and the punishments mirror those for a DUI on the roads. Last year, 139 individuals were charged with BUI in Georgia, he said.

But no matter how heavily they patrol, law officers are ever aware that accidents will happen.

In 2010, the DNR reported 135 boating accidents in Georgia, 16 boating-related deaths and 51 drownings.

“We want you to have a good time, but be safe and be able to go home,” Strickland said.

When emergencies do arise, the sheriff’s office dive team will be ready to get in the water.

Strickland said the crew includes 10 officers who volunteer to take extra training and become certified. They are used all over the state to recover bodies and evidence from underwater.

“The dive team has been training all winter,” Strickland said. “It’s a unit we hope we do not have to deploy, but they’re ready.”

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