Georgia’s biggest and most popular lakes for recreation, swimming and boating are: Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, Carter’s Lake, Clark’s Hill (Thurmond), Lake Seminole, Lake Hartwell, Lake Blackshear, Richard B. Russell Lake, Walter F. George Lake, and West Point Lake. As the Fourth of July holiday arrives here in Georgia, it is important to remember that recreation in Georgia lakes can turn deadly or cause catastrophic injuries if people are not careful and rules are not followed. Swimmers, boaters and personal watercraft riders should be aware of the dangers before venturing out on the water.
The Department of Natural Resources for the State of Georgia is the agency responsible for law enforcement on Georgia waterways. These officers will be out in force this summer because 2009 has been a very bad year for boating fatalities and drowings. Through June 21st, 5 victims have died in boating accidents and 21 people have drowned statewide. During the entire year of 2008, 10 died in boating accidents and 62 drowned statewide.
Officers will be checking first for lifejackets. Georgia law requires a life jacket or other personal floatation device for operators or riders aboard a moving boat or personal watercraft at all times. Also, people being towed by boats whether on skis or tubes, must also wear floatation devices.
Secondly, officers will be making sure that boat operators are not impaired. In 2008, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Officers made 215 Boating Under the Influence arrests in Georgia and investigated 18 alcohol-related boating accidents. On average, more than 20% of boating fatalities are the result of an impaired boat driver.
While it is not illegal to have alcohol in the craft, it is illegal to operate the boat under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. The blood alcohol content limit is .10 in Georgia. If you are under 21, the limit is .02. People convicted of Boating Under the Influence are subject to penalties up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. These sentence guidelines are identical to those for DUI in an automobile.
Boating Under the Influence is more dangerous, in my opinion, than Driving under the Influence is in an automobile because of the lack of impact safety devices like seatbelts and airbags in boats. Boats are just not set up for crash impacts. Besides death and drowning, brain injures and spine injuries are the most common result of boating accidents, as passengers seldom wear helmets and the speeds in boats at the times of impact are comparable to those in cars. Tragically, disfiguring burn injuries are also very common.
Appreciate the dangers of boating accidents. Have a great 4th, but be safe.
Swimmers, boaters urged to be safe in Georgia waters for July 4th holiday weekend, The Florida Times Union, June 28, 2009.