The Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the boating season in Georgia and anchors National Safe Boating Week, May 20-26. Georgia Power and the Department of Natural Resources want all boaters and personal-watercraft (jet ski) operators to be safe on the water this summer by following the state laws. Last year in Georgia, 18 people were killed in boating accidents, 12 of whom were not wearing a life jacket, and 86 people were drowning victims.
Boat Smart from the Start, Wear Your Lifejacket, is this years national safety theme. Georgia Power and the DNR have teamed up to deliver this message to hundreds of students this month at the companys lakes around the state.
If the students only hear one message, it would be that they need to wear a lifejacket that fits properly when they are on the water, said Cpl. Johnny Niles, Department of Natural Resources. Niles was one of five safety instructors who taught water safety to students at Georgia Powers Lloyd Shoals Park on Lake Jackson in May. Georgia Power also had safety classes at its parks in North Georgia and on lakes Oconee, Sinclair and Harding.
According to Georgia law, all boats, regardless of length, must be equipped with a U.S. Coast Guardapproved life jacket for each person on the boat. Children under age 10 must wear a properly fitted and fastened life jacket at all times when the boat is moving, unless the child is in a fully enclosed cabin or compartment of the vessel.
We encourage boaters and watercraft operators to obey any posted rules at the lake and stay clear of marked swimming areas, said Michael Barnett, senior land resources representative for Georgia Power.
Barnett also encourages parents to be cautious with their children around lakes. Anytime young children are near the water, we advocate that they wear a flotation device, Barnett said.
In addition to life jackets, another key to water safety is sobriety. It is against the law in Georgia to operate a boat or personal watercraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is also against the law to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs when supervising drivers between the ages of 12 and 15.
Georgias Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws were strengthened in 1998. Anyone arrested for BUI may lose boat-operations privileges for up to a year on a first-time conviction. The law also revokes privileges for up to one year for people who refuse sobriety tests when suspected of operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs and/or people whose blood, breath or urine test shows the presence of illegal drugs or an alcohol level of .10 or higher. Last year the DNR made 411 BUI arrests.
The law also established a zero tolerance level of .02 for people under the age of 21 found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The law also created the offense of endangering a child if a boat operator transports a child under age 14 while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Fines or penalties for violations are established by local authorities.
Georgia law also restricts all boats (including jet skis) from operating over idle speed within 100 feet of any moored or anchored vessel, any vessel adrift, or any wharf, pier, piling, or person in the water, or shoreline adjacent to a full-time or part-time residence, public park, public beach, public swimming area, marine, restaurant or other public-use area. The law also prohibits boat operators from jumping the wake of another boat within 100 feet, from buzzing other boats, and from operating at speeds too fast for existing conditions.
This law also requires that boat operators have a form of identification on them. Rangers have conducted education programs on these laws over the last two summers and are now fully enforcing these laws, according to DNR officials.
These laws complement other state laws about ages for operation and safety. Youngsters under the age of 12 may not operate a personal watercraft. Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 must complete a Georgia Department of Natural Resources-approved personal watercraft safety program; or be accompanied by, or under
the direct supervision (within sight or hearing distance) of, an adult (18 years or older) who has met all requirements relating to the operation a personal watercraft and is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Another requirement for personal-watercraft operators is a self-circling device or lanyard-type engine cutoff switch. The self-circling device must be fully operational, and if the lanyard-type switch is used it must be attached to the operators clothing, body or personal-flotation device. Also, personal watercrafts cant be operated after dark.
By following the laws and using common sense, boating and water activities can be safe for everyone, Barnett said.
For more information on boating and water safety, please call 1-800-GPC LAKE or visit the Georgia Power Lakes and Recreation site for the lake resources office nearest you.