Georgia boaters, mark your calendars for National Safe Boating Week May 18-24, the unofficial start of the boating season. While boating is a time for fun and family, it’s also a time for care and safety.
With more than 330,000 boats registered in the state, there are at least three things everyone should do to ensure a fun and safe day on the water.
Take a boating education class.
Just as an educated driver is safer on the road, an educated boater is safer on the water. Knowing the rules on the water keeps everyone safe, and provides for a much more enjoyable experience.
There are many options locally available to take a safe boating class, including courses offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, or online by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It is also important to remember that in Georgia, anyone born after Jan. 1, 1998, must have completed a boating education course before operating any motorized vessel on Georgia state waters.
Always wear a life jacket.
Many of us might remember pictures of the Titanic and other maritime disasters where passengers put on large, bulky life jackets. They were so cumbersome that they were stored aboard ship and passed out (at least to the lucky ones) just before sinking. Things have changed! Today’s recreational boater life jackets are lightweight – not bulky – colorful, and comfortable to wear. Their purpose, however, hasn’t changed; they still save lives. In the past five years, 21 people have drowned in Lake Allatoona, and none of those victims were wearing life jackets. Approximately 700 boating deaths occur nationally each year with 80 percent drowning, and 83 percent of those were not wearing life jackets.
Georgia law requires that boaters “carry aboard and have readily accessible” one Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board. Life jackets must be in good condition, and of the proper fit for each passenger – a small child needs a small life jacket. However, if you find yourself overboard and in the water, it is impossible to grab your life jacket, and put it on while in the water struggling to stay afloat. A life jacket only works if it is worn at all times.
There are a wide variety of life jackets on the market. Pricewise they range from about $10 to more than $200. Whatever type of life jacket you choose, the most important feature is that it is worn at all times while on the boat. A life jacket doesn’t work unless you wear it. When a life jacket is worn, nobody mourns.
File a float plan.
Whenever you go boating, always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. If something should happen, you can’t be rescued if no one knows where to search. Always prepare a float plan before departure. The plan doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but should cover the following points:
• Description of the boat: type, length, color, registration number and name.
• Description of your car: license plate number and at what marina or launch ramp it is parked.
• Number of people on board.
• When and from where you are leaving, where you are going/route, and when you expect to return.
If that seems like too much, just let someone know from where you are leaving, where you are going, and when you will be returning. Leave the float plan with a good friend, a family member, or someone you can trust to take action once you are overdue. Your friend will then call the appropriate party to come to your rescue. The appropriate party to call could be the DNR, the Corps of Engineers, or local sheriff’s office. The float plan tells the rescuer where to look.
As the boating season begins, everyone wants to have an enjoyable time on the water. A safe boating experience is a fun experience. Following these guidelines will help everyone have a much safer boating season this summer. For more information about boating education classes, email the Lake Allatoona Coast Guard Auxiliary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Greg Fonzeno is the public education officer and vice commander of the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit (Flotilla 22) at Allatoona Lake.