Georgia boaters, mark your calendar! National Safe Boating Week is May 16-22, marking the unofficial beginning 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 this state, there are at least three things everyone should do to insure a fun and safe day on the water.
1. 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 of the road” on the water keeps everyone safe, and provides for a more enjoyable experience. U.S. Coast Guard statistics indicate that, of the accidents where the level of operator education was known, 81% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator never received boating instruction. There are many local safe-boating classes, including courses offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, or online through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Remember that, in Georgia, anyone born after January 1, 1998, must have completed a boating education course before operating any motorized vessel on Georgia waters.
2. 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 the sinking. Things have changed! Today’s recreational boater life jackets are lightweight, good looking (even fashionable), colorful, and comfortable to wear. But, the purpose hasn’t changed: saving lives. In the past five years, 21 people have drowned in Lake Allatoona. None of those victims was wearing a life jacket. Nationally, approximately 700 boating deaths occur each year. Of that number, 80% die by drowning, and 83% of those victims 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 onboard. Life jackets must be in good condition and properly fit each passenger: small ones for kids, and standard sizes for adults. 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 is a wide variety of life jackets on the market. Prices range from $10 to more than $200. Whatever type you choose, the most important feature is that it is worn at all times while on the boat. The bottom line is that a life jacket doesn’t work unless you wear it. When a life jacket is worn — nobody mourns.
3. File a Float Plan
Whenever you go boating, 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 prior to departure. The plan need not be overly complicated, but should cover the following points: description of the boat, type, length, color, registration number and name, plus a description of your car, its license plate number and at which marina or launch ramp it is parked. Also include the number of people on board, when and from where you are leaving, where you are going, your 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 return. Leave the float plan with a good friend, a family member, or someone you can trust to take action if you are overdue. The Coast Guard, DNR or other agencies will not take your plan; they perform the rescue. Your friend can call the appropriate party — the DNR or local sheriff’s office — to come to your rescue. The float plan tells the rescuer where to look.
Information about available boating education classes can be requested by emailing the Lake Allatoona Coast Guard Auxiliary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Greg Fonzeno, contributing writer, and public education officer and vice commander of the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit (Flotilla 22) at Allatoona Lake.