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‘What’s under your dock:’ Lake dweller, diver talk about the importance of dock clearing
Dock safety
Divers from Lake Lanier Recovery Divers pull a 30-foot-long sheet of metal from underneath a Forsyth County resident's dock. According to the homeowner, the sheets of metal flew off their dock during a bad storm last year. Photos courtesy of Forsyth County News.

As the summer sun begins to rise over Lake Lanier, folks who live on the lake, often called ‘dwellers,’ start to take to the water to boat, swim and float.

While boat safety is important for everyone on the lake, there are certain risks that dwellers are privy to: What’s under your dock?

Lake Lanier Recovery Divers, a group of divers that recover lost items in Lake Lanier, has been diving around and below dwellers’ docks, clearing them of any debris, furniture or trash that could harm someone jumping off the dock.

Allison Zafft, a resident of Gwinnett County in the Buford Dam area, has been getting her dock cleared by Lake Lanier Recovery Divers for “probably about five or six years.”

Dock safety 2
Members of LLRD work together to pull a long piece of metal out of Lake Lanier. The metal was so heavy with mud that it took multiple people to pull and lift it from the water. Photos courtesy of the Forsyth County News.

Zafft said she and her husband have two children that like to swim; they took lessons when they were younger, and they are now competitive swimmers.

“Water safety was always important to us,” Zafft said. “And now, after living on the lake, we just thought [getting our dock cleared] was necessary as the kids got older and wanted to jump off the dock and go swimming in the lake.”

Richard Pickering, a diver with Lake Lanier Recovery Divers, said he has been helping the Zafft family maintain good “dock integrity” by inspecting below the dock and retrieving any hazards, some more dangerous than others.

One evening, Zafft said she and her family were out for dinner when a storm hit. They watched through the dock cameras as they lost furniture to the wind and waves on Lake Lanier.

Zafft said she and her family were out for dinner when a storm hit. They watched through their dock cameras as they lost furniture to the wind and waves on Lake Lanier.

“We watched some lawn chairs, an umbrella and an umbrella base fly off our dock, over the railing and into the water,” she said.

When they got home, Zafft said her husband was able to fish out the lawn chairs, but the umbrella remained submerged.

Because she was not able to see the umbrella or know if it was pointed upwards, she called Pickering to for help.

“We’d already had our dock cleared for the start of the season,” Zafft said. “But we wanted to find it so we could [stay safe].

“Not knowing what’s under there, it can be dangerous,” she said. “You can’t see the bottom; it’s not like a pool where you can see what’s in there; fishing line, tree stumps, branches, all sorts of debris.”

One of the most interesting and possibly most dangerous items Pickering said he’s found under a dock was a tractor from the 1950s.

A few years back, he said he cleared a dock for a homeowner that was planning on selling their home. When he dove beneath the dock, he found a partially-buried tractor that “had to have been there since they flooded [Lake Lanier].”

“That just goes to show how dangerous it can be,” Pickering said. “You can’t see even [10 feet down], it’s like five to six [feet] maximum.”

Pickering described the most common dock hazards as furniture and trees, but he has seen things like boats, refrigerators, ropes, boat motors and old docks that have been purposefully sunk.

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LLRD guys load up a trailer with things pulled from underneath a Forsyth homeowner's dock: sharp pieces of metal, a folding chair and fishing line. Photos courtesy of the Forsyth County News.

One of the most dangerous hazards, though, is unseen: fishing lures and lines.

“If you jump in and get caught on a fishing lure, your immediate reaction is to swim for the surface,” Pickering said. “And that fishing lure is attached to a line, and that’s pulling you in the opposite direction. You’re not going to cut [the line] with your teeth, and you’re going to panic. And when people panic, that’s when they unfortunately they [could] drown.”

He said the mud at the bottom of the lake can also be “very unforgiving,” and he and his team take time to inspect the terrain below each dock to give a detailed report to the homeowner.

Sometimes they find boulders, he said. Other times, the mud is too thick to reach through, or the ground is silty and sandy.

“We will inform the owners of what we find down there and what they should be aware of,” Pickering said. “Then we advise them accordingly.”

Pickering said he refers to his group’s dock clearing service as “the cheapest insurance policy you can buy.”

“You just don’t know what’s down there, and it’s your children and your family’s safety,” Zafft said. “I mean, you’ll put a seatbelt on, but you won’t clear your dock. To me, it’s just as important; it’s safety.”

While Zafft said she is appreciative of Lake Lanier Recovery Divers’ item recovery service, she was most grateful for their dock clearing capabilities.

“Even though it’s not failsafe, it gives us some peace of mind to know we’re trying to do the right thing for our kids and our family,” Zafft said. “You just really don’t know what’s down there, and you can’t replace the safety aspect. It’s so important.”

This story was originally published in the Forsyth County News, a sister publication of the Dawson County News.