Local divers offer tips for staying safe on Lake Lanier this summer

It’s no secret that Lake Lanier has seen its fair share of boating accidents, drownings, and injuries. But can people really attribute this to rumors of spirits floating beneath the waves, or is there something else boaters and swimmers are missing?

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, in 2021 Lake Lanier had four drownings, 24 boating accidents, 74 BUIs and five fatalities.

As the boating season begins this summer, we’ve interviewed officials who know the dangers of Lake Lanier and have the best tips to keep you informed this year. After all, a knowledgeable boater is a safe boater.

Tan lines to be proud of

sergeant. Chris Tempel, commander of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office dive team, has been diving on Lake Lanier since 2000, responding to boating accidents and drownings.

After 22 years in the business, he said the No. 1 rule that is broken is that people don’t wear a life jacket or other personal flotation device.

Tempel said people should wear a life jacket while a boat is moving. If a boat has stopped, he said life jackets are not necessary but are still recommended for children, people with medical conditions and poor swimmers.

“I know they can give you funny tan lines, but it’s always better to be there to laugh about it than [not]“, said Tempel.

According to the Georgia DNR, every person aboard a personal watercraft, such as a jet ski or a Sea-Doo, should always wear a US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device.

While not always the most stylish, he said life jackets and other personal flotation devices can literally save lives, and he encourages people to use personal flotation devices.

Who has the right of way?

Lake Lanier doesn’t have lanes or yellow lines to help navigate the canals, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t “rules of the road.”

Richard Pickering has been “safe boating” for over 40 years, riding everything from jet skis to 120ft houseboats and hasn’t had a single accident. He also oversees safety briefings for the Poker Run each year, an annual boating event on Lake Lanier.

“Boating on Lake Lanier can be very dangerous when people don’t know the rules of the road,” Pickering said.

Like a highway, he said boaters want to keep “generally to the right” when crossing the lake.

If you are looking to pass another boat or vessel ahead of you, keep left and keep a distance of at least 100 feet, as required by law.

If a boat or ship crosses in front of you, Pickering said the ship on the right always has right of way.

“It’s your responsibility to slow down and allow them to pass in front of you while maintaining a safe distance of 100 feet or more,” Pickering said.

He said this rule is often overlooked by novice boaters and those using jet skis and can result in people in serious trouble with maritime law. His suggestion is to take a free online boater safety course, which is provided by the US Coast Guard and DNR.

Another rule to remember is that sailboats under sail always have the right of way, as they are at the mercy of the wind and waves. If a sailboat is under engine, it must respect the same rules as boaters and personal watercraft operators.

Pay attention and understand the markers

Lake Lanier is riddled with poles, buoys and flags, but not because it looks cool. The beacons are there to keep people safe on the lake, and it’s important to know what they mean.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, underwater hazards are usually marked with a diamond symbol, such as submerged rocks, trees, and sandbars.

Pickering said it’s important to avoid driving a boat between a marker and the shore, as markers typically indicate shallow water; Always sail around the beacon on the far side of the shore.

“Always give the marker a good distance as well,” Pickering said.

Danger, “no wake” and “do not allow” signs are usually white, with lake navigation markers in green. More information on the specific meaning of the signs can be found on the US Army Corps of Engineers website at www.usace.army.mil.

Pickering also encouraged boaters to “leave the lake” at sunset, as many markers are unlit and can present more danger in the dark with people bumping into them and obstacles below.

Understanding Topography

While Pickering encourages all boaters and those using jet skis to drive vessels with their heads “on a swivel” to look for the markings, he said not all hazards have been marked on Lake Lanier.

Surveying topography and examining the shoreline can help boaters gauge water depth, according to Pickering.

“One of the biggest challenges for boaters on Lake Lanier is not knowing what’s underwater,” Pickering said. “If you look at the topography of the land and study it, you’ll start to see a pattern emerge.”

Pickering explained that if you see a chain of islands in the lake close together, there’s a “very good chance” the islands are connected under the waves by low areas, rocks or other obstacles. “which stand up and could cause an accident with your boat.

He said that generally if the shoreline is steep, “then there is a very good chance that the steep slope will continue underwater and give you a safe passage into deep water”.

If a shoreline slopes gently, has a beach, or you see “brown in the area”, you should give the shoreline a wide berth as this may indicate sandbars and “very shallow water”.

Stay sober and alert

In Tempel’s 22 years of experience on the lake, he has not seen the “Lady of the Lake”, an apparition some claim to have seen, or any other spirits said to suck people under the skin. ‘water.

“I’m still diving, aren’t I?” Temple said. “The first time I meet the ‘Lady of the Lake’, I believe I will end my diving career.”

He said another big factor on the lake is another type of spirit: alcohol.

According to the Georgia DNR, Lake Lanier has seen at least 30 BUIs per year for the past five years, including 84 in 2020 and 74 in 2021.

“People come to the lake for recreation and unfortunately, [alcohol and drugs] do not mix with water,” Tempel said.

He said driving a boat or jet ski under the influence is like driving a car and it is imperative to drink responsibly.

“The best way to stay safe on [Lake Lanier] is to really use common sense and good judgment and stay sober.

According to the US Coast Guard, “the operator of a boat is likely to become impaired more quickly than a driver, drinking for drinking” due to engine vibration, lake movement and sunlight.

Tips for avoiding a BUI this summer include bringing plenty of snacks and food on a day, drinking plenty of water, wearing clothes that will keep you cool, and considering having bigger parties ashore rather than onshore. a boat.

Other Resources

Whatever your style of enjoying the lake, it’s important that you keep your boat and others afloat this summer so you can cruise back and forth to see all that Lake Lanier has to offer. And show off those weird tan lines.

To learn more about other life-saving tips, visit the US Coast Guard website at www.uscg.mil, the US Army Corps of Engineers at www.usace.army.mil or Georgia DNR at gadnr. org.

This article originally appeared in the Forsyth County News, a sister publication of DCN.

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