It’s the Memorial Day holiday weekend and that means lots of fun on the water for thousands of local residents in the Milledgeville-Baldwin County area, as well as many out-of-towners.
The long holiday weekend is also a time that marks what many consider the start of summer fun at area lakes, rivers and ponds.
It also can be a deadly time for others if they don’t follow the law and practice safety above all.
The latter is deeply concerning for officials with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division and Georgia Power Company.
Georgia Power has provided a number of tips aimed at helping lake-goers stay safer on the waterways this summer.
As for those protecting and enforcing the laws of the state on the water, this summer promises to be another challenging year in a number of ways.
“We’re hoping for the best, but we realize that a tragedy on the water can happen at any time and we want to do everything we can do to prevent such from happening,” said Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division Game Warden Sgt. Bo Kelly.
Before the crowds began converging in areas on Lake Sinclair in Baldwin and Putnam counties on Friday, Kelly said he and other game wardens had noticed a significant increase in the number of people.
DNR officials stress three key areas for a safe holiday weekend. First, always have a lifejacket near by or wear one. It needs to fit properly and one that is for that size person.
“It’s based on body weight,” Kelly said. “There’s infant sizes, children, youth and several different adult sizes.”
Kelly said a lot of boats appear overloaded with people on the lake from time to time, a potential danger for those onboard without properly sized lifejackets.
“Well, if they go in the water and they’re not a good swimmer and don’t have a lifejacket nearby, it’s probably not going to end well,” Kelly said. “Lifejackets are very inexpensive, but they are very effective in preventing drownings.”
Several businesses in the lake area loan out lifejackets to those who asked for them.
“You can check them out like a library book,” Kelly said. “I believe Sunset Marina and Twin Bridges Store still loan them out.”
DNR operates a lifejacket loaner station at Dennis Station boat ramp.
“Anybody can just use one of the lifejackets hanging there for the day,” Kelly said. “All we ask is that at the end of the day, you return the lifejacket there.”
When it comes to preventing boat crashes on the lake, one of the most important things to remember is not to drink alcoholic beverages or be under the influence of drugs while operating a boat, according to Kelly, who has been a state game warden for the past 22 years.
“That’s still our biggest safety issue out there on the water,” Kelly pointed out. “And it’s something we don’t give any breaks on. If we catch you impaired, or intoxicated, you go to jail and get charged with boating under the influence (BUI).”
Kelly also talked about children under the age 13 riding in a moving vessel.
“They have to be wearing a lifejacket at all times,” Kelly said. “So 13 and under, if a boat is moving, they have to have it on.”
Even though it’s hot weather, kids still have to wear them the entire time the boat is moving on the water, he added.
“A lot of times, if it’s hot, we’ll tell people to stop the boat and soak the lifejacket in the water and put right back on the child wet, and it will help cool the child down,” Kelly said. “You just have to remember that the boat must be stopped before you do that. The boat can’t be moving.”
That law has been in existence for more than two decades, but some amendments have been made since then.
“It used to be for kids 10 and under, and now it’s 13 and under,” Kelly said.
Lastly, DNR officials also stress the importance of boater education safety classes.
“There’s a lot of rules out there on the water that many boaters are not aware of,” Kelly said. “And if you take an approved class, it’s accepted in any of the other states in the country.”