The kickoff to summer is well on its way with Memorial Day weekend just barely in the rearview mirror. Many neighborhood and public pools will be celebrating the opening of the season and nearby lakes and rivers will be full of boats, swimmers and fishers.
As the community soaks up the sun and takes a dip in the water, it’s important to practice water safety.
Sergeant Lee Brown, an officer in the law enforcement department of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said that DNR reported 63 drownings across the state in 2017 and has already reported 12 this year.
There are many things that community members can do when they are having a day by the pool or lake to make sure they can have a fun and safe summer in the water.
Lakes, rivers and pools
When it comes to having a safe day in the sand or by the pool, the Georgia DNR recommends following the SPLASH initiative established by Sandra Deal.
SPLASH is an acronym that stands for Supervision, Prevention, Life Jackets Save Lives, Arm’s Length, Swim Lessons and Have a Water Safety Plan.
It’s important that children under the age of 13 are supervised by an adult at all times and that adults stay within arm’s length to children while in the water.
Children should also wear life jackets if they aren’t strong swimmers. Life jackets can be rented from loner stations around Lake Lanier or can be purchased in stores or online. The jackets need to be National Guard certified which can be found on the inside label of the jacket and must be the right weight size for the wearer.
While at the lake and most neighborhood pools, be mindful of signs that state “swim at your own risk” as many do not have life guards on duty. DNR also advises that swimmers enjoying the beach areas of the lake stay within the roped off swimming zones and to swim with a buddy.
Swimming lessons are also encouraged and are offered by the Red Cross and the YMCA.
Tubers, kayakers and paddle boaters who want to float down the river should have a floater plan. They are advised to tell someone what time they are leaving and what time they are expected to return as well as their starting and ending points.
The Amicalola River and Chattahoochee River run consistent low temperatures year round and although it may be a 90 degree July day, the water will remain around 50 degrees. Hypothermia can set in and those who start shivering in the water should get out to warm themselves up before continuing on their journey.
Before getting out on the lake, boaters are advised to check the radar and water levels so they can plan accordingly. If there is a bad storm on the horizon or water levels have dropped, it may determine where boaters can enjoy their time on the lake.
There are many regulatory markers and buoys located in Lake Lanier that all boaters need to read and obey in order to have a safe drive on the water. Hazard markers on poles warn boaters of shallow water and to take caution while red and green markers tell boaters which way they are going and what area they are in.
It’s especially important to note newer buoys that are located near Boling Bridge and Browns Bridge that warn boaters to drive cautiously through the construction zones.
Each boat needs to be equipped with a wearable and properly fitting life jacket for everyone on board, a fire extinguisher, working front and rear lights and proper registration.
Boat operators need to be sober. Though drinking on board is permitted, like in a car, the driver cannot be under the influence.
For young boaters born after January 1, 1998, they must complete a boater education course and show proof via the boater education card that they have completed the course in order to operate a boat.
“We’re starting to catch a lot of people in that,” said Brown. “We’re seeing a lot of that age group that has not taken boater education and so they have to have it. We are writing citations and warnings for that.”
Boater education is important because it teaches young boat operators about the rules of the road and the laws and regulations of boat operation.
The Coach Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadron offer boater education classes around Lake Lanier. You can also go to Boat US’s website where you can pay for courses or sign up for a free course. Boater education must be approved by NASBLA, the National Association of State Boating Law Adminstrators. The course can also be taken online through the DNR website.
Those who wish to boat alone should tell a friend or family member where they are putting in at the lake and when they expect to return. With cell phone signal readily available on the lake it is easy to update others of your whereabouts.
If there is an emergency on the lake, call 911 and take note of your surroundings. While you may be in Dawson County, the cell tower nearest could direct the call to Forsyth authorities. By knowing which park or boat ramp you are closest to, it will help get the right authorities to the emergency situation as soon as possible.