MILLEDGEVILLE — Each year thousands of central Georgians head to the lake waters during the summer months for outdoor fun and recreation.
It’s a great time to enjoy the outdoors and gather with family and friends. But in all the fun and festivities this summer, let’s not forget the importance of boating safety and adhering to the law.
With 417 miles of shoreline on Lake Sinclair and 374 miles of shoreline on Lake Oconee, the serene and inviting waters of the lakes add to the uniqueness of life in this region, drawing thousands of tourists and weekenders every year. But with an influx of visitors on the water during peak season, taking precautions and following safety rules and regulations is vital for everyone.
In 2013 there were 27 drownings in Georgia lakes, and 160 Boating Under the Influence citations were issued. The total number of boating injuries was 59 — 15 of them were alcohol-related.
Last year a concerted effort by the Department of Natural Resources was made to inform Georgians of changes to the boating laws with regards to alcohol. A statewide awareness campaign helped spread the message. This year, the Wear It Georgia campaign is helping inform lake-goers of the importance of life jackets, another key safety element.
Boaters are now required to observe stricter alcohol limits, training requirements and life jacket rules. The legal blood alcohol content allowed to drive a boat was lowered from .10 to .08, making the rule the same on the road and on the water. Another new law also requires everyone on the water under age 13 to wear a life jacket while riding in a boat.
While there are some who may object to these boating law changes, namely lowering the drinking limit, boats and other motorized watercraft require the same type of responsibility to operate as a vehicle on the road. If those who operate are too impaired under the law to operate a vehicle on land, then the reality is they are also too impaired to drive a boat.
An added danger of boating under the influence is that boaters often return to a landing at the end of the day, then drive home impaired on the roadways.
The law was established in memory of three young Georgia boating victims who died on Lake Lanier. Their young lives were cut short resulting from improper use of watercrafts, turning a day on the water into tragedy. In one of these instances, alcohol was deemed the cause.
Lake Sinclair has established locations where lake-goers can have their life jackets checked by DNR. These sites include Sunset Marina, off Highway 441 across from the Georgia Power Plant; Sinclair Marina on Sinclair Marina Road; and Twin Bridges Marina on Twin Bridges Road.
Additionally, local boating classes are available free of charge. Classes will be conducted June 16-17 and July 24-15 from 6 to 9 p.m. To register visit www.goboatgeorgia.com.
Other resource materials are available at www.georgiawildlife.com/boating/safety.
Memorial Day weekend is heralded as the kickoff to boating’s peak season, which continues through Labor Day. Visitors to the area lakes generate an influx of activity and certainly many positives. Taking precautions and following the new rules and regulations ensures that everyone can enjoy the lake this season safely and with peace of mind.