2008-08-28 / Sports

Practice boat safety first this Labor Day holiday weekend

Boaters are sure to flood Georgia's waterways this Labor Day Holiday weekend, bringing the summer boating season to an unofficial end. Given the expected level of holiday boating activity, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division want to stress the importance of safety, especially designating a sober driver this holiday weekend.

"Holiday weekends often mean increased use of public waterways - and that means an increased need for safety awareness from all boaters," says Col. Terry West, Chief of Law Enforcement. "As always, conservation rangers will continue to strictly enforce all boating laws in an effort to keep everyone safe, but we also encourage people to pay extra attention to others on the water."

So far this year there have been 124 boating incidents, 10 boating incident related fatalities and 53 total drownings on Georgia waters. WRD Conservation Rangers have also issued a total of 158 boating under the influence citations. Many accidents and fatalities can be avoided by reviewing and following safety tips over the course of the holiday weekend's festivities.

.. There are no "driving lanes" on the water, so boat operators need to be educated on the 'rules of the road' and aware of all other boat traffic in the area. The 100-foot law prohibits people from operating ALL vessels, including personal watercraft (i.e. PWC, jet ski), at a speed greater than idle speed within 100 feet of any vessel that is moored, anchored or adrift outside normal traffic channels, or within 100 feet of any dock, wharf, pier, piling, bridge structure, person in the water or shoreline adjacent to a full-time or part-time residence, public park, public beach, public swimming area, marina, restaurant or other public use area.

.. Wear your life jacket. Nine out of ten drowning victims did not. Children under the age of ten are required by law to wear a life jacket while onboard a moving boat (unless child is in a fully enclosed cabin).

.. Do not drink and operate a boat. Half of all boating fatalities involve al- cohol. Alcohol can affect people much more rapidly on the water - the boat's movement, vibration, noise and glare, and the sun and wind create a so-called boater's hypnosis. Make sure a designated operator refrains from drinking alcohol so they can safely operate the boat.

.. Use navigation lights at ALL times on the water at night, whether the boat is moving or anchored. Do not wait until dark to turn your lights on to see if they are functioning properly.

.. Do not overload your boat with people or equipment. Check the capacity plate on the boat that indicates the maximum weight capacity or the maximum number of people that the boat can safely carry.

.. Minimum Age Requirements. Know Georgia's age requirements for boat and PWC operation, and don't lend your PWC to anyone underage.

.. Brush up on your boating safety knowledge. Take a boating safety course. There are three easy ways for boat operators to take a course in Georgia - in a classroom, on the Internet at www.boat-ed.com or through a home study course that can either be ordered on the Internet at www.boat-ed.com or by calling 1- 800-460-9698.

In addition, due to Georgia's current drought situation and the effects on area lakes and waterways, WRD advises boaters to be extra cautious and aware of possible navigational obstructions while on the water.

"Boaters should be on the lookout for such obstructions as trees, debris and land areas that normally are well under the water's surface," explains West. "Even if you are familiar with a particular body of water, we encourage you to boat with caution to protect your vessel and your occupants."

For more information on boating safety, contact a WRD Law Enforcement Office or visit the WRD website at www.goboatgeorgia.com. Calhoun - (770) 769-9680; Gainesville - (770) 535-5499; Thomson - (706) 595-4211; Macon - (478) 751-6415; Albany - (229) 430-4252; Metter - (912) 685-2145; Brunswick - (912) 264-7237.

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