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Boater head to water over holiday weekend

On Memorial Day weekend one thing is certain, thousands of boaters and anglers will be out enjoying the holiday on state waters, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Last year, there were 156 boating accidents and 18 boating incident-related fatalities in Georgia, and conservation rangers made 215 boating under the influence arrests.

“For many people, the holiday weekend signals the perfect time to be out on the water with family and friends,” said Col. Terry West, DNR chief of law enforcement. “However, we want to remind everyone that public waters will be very crowded, and in an effort to keep everyone safe, we encourage boat operators to stay sober and alert and know Georgia’s boating laws before heading out on the water.”

Alcohol, mixed with boating activities, creates dangerous conditions that can lead to tragedy. Last year, conservation rangers made 215 boating under the influence arrests on Georgia waterways and responded to 18 alcohol-related boating incidents.

“It is not illegal to have alcohol in an open container on a boat, nor is it illegal for a person operating a boat to drink, provided they are no less safe,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, DNR assistant chief of law enforcement. “However, if a person is over the age of 21 and has a blood alcohol content of 0.10 or higher, they are presumed to be less safe and may be charged with boating under the influence.”

DNR offers the following safety rules for boat and personal watercraft (PWC) operators:

• Designate an operator. Do not drink and operate a boat.

• Take a boating safety course. To take a boating safety course, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com.

• Wear a life jacket. Children under 10 years of age are required by law to wear a life jacket while onboard a moving boat.

• Don’t overload your boat with people or equipment. Check on the capacity plate for the maximum weight or the maximum number of people the boat can safely carry.

• Use navigation lights at all times when on the water at night. Check lights before it gets dark.

• Watch your speed. The 100-foot law applies to all size vessels and prohibits operation at speeds greater than idle speed within 100 feet of any vessel, unless overtaking or meeting another vessel in compliance with the rules of the road.

PWC operators also should be aware of these additional safety rules:

• Do not jump the wake of another boat.

• Pay attention to your surroundings and make sure you stay well clear of other vessels.

• Know Georgia’s age requirements for PWC operation.

• Make sure everyone who operates your PWC is aware of boating laws and how to safely operate a PWC. As the owner, you can be held responsible.

Even though water levels are at a much more favorable condition this year, the DNR advises boaters to continue to be cautious and aware while on the water.

“Water levels certainly are better this year, which may remove some of the obstruction issues we had in the previous few years—but that does not mean that boaters should become less diligent—caution is always encouraged,” explains West.

Safety in the water

The thought of tragedy or death probably never enters the minds of most swimmers and boaters out enjoying a day of fun on the water—perhaps it should.

Last year, 56 people drowned and 18 others died in boating-related incidents in Georgia. The DNR encourages everyone to practice safety at all times when in and around the water.

A recent U.S. Coast Guard report indicated that 90 percent of boating incident victims who drowned in 2007 were not wearing a life jacket.

Always remember—it won’t work if you don’t wear it!

Some tips for both boating and water safety include:

• Take a boating safety course and/or a swimming course.

• Never swim alone. If you are a marginal swimmer, wear a flotation device.

• Don’t mix alcohol or drugs with boating or swimming.

• Never let children swim or boat unsupervised. Remember, children under the age of 10 must wear a life jacket while on a moving boat.

• Keep life jackets accessible—never make someone feel uncomfortable if they choose to wear a life jacket.

• Don’t overdo boating and water fun. Don’t swim when you are too tired, too cold or too far from safety.

• Learn and obey the “rules of the road” for boating.

• Always be aware of the possibilities of hidden dangers such as underwater obstacles, changing currents and underwater drop-offs.

• Tell someone where you are going and when you will return.

• When you find yourself in a stressful situation, don’t panic. If in non-flowing water, float or “dog-paddle” to safety. If in flowing water, float with the current, don’t fight against it.

Boating age requirements

The DNR also reminds boaters under the age of 16 that there is a minimum age requirement to operate a boat or personal watercraft (PWC) on public lakes and waterways.

Young boaters can satisfy the minimum age requirements of this law by taking a boating safety course or by operating a boat under the supervision or in the accompaniment of an adult. The DNR encourages adults to never leave young children unattended on vessels.

“Minimum age requirements are a necessity for the safety of the operator of the vessel as well as everyone else on the water,” said Lt. Col. Weaver. “Just like the privilege of driving a car, young people should take the operation of a personal watercraft or other vessel very seriously and realize that they can avoid a serious incident by educating themselves about boating safety.”

Minimum boat operator age requirements are based on the age of the boat operator and the size of the vessel. For a complete listing of what ages can legally operate what type of vessel, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com and select “Boating,” “Boating Regulations” and then “Who can operate a boat?” or contact a DNR Law Enforcement office.

For more information on boating safety, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com or call a DNR Law Enforcement office at (229) 430-4252.