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Boating safety urged for Labor Day

COVINGTON - With the upcoming Labor Day weekend signaling the end of summer, boaters will be out for one last joy ride. But the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division wants to make sure safety isn't forgotten amidst all the celebrating.

"Holiday weekends often mean increased use of public waterways, and that means an increased need for safety awareness from all boaters," said Col. Terry West, chief of law enforcement for the WRD. "As always, conservation rangers will continue to strictly enforce all boating laws in an effort to keep everyone safe, but we also encourage people to pay extra attention to others on the water."

So far this year, there have been three boating incidents at Lake Jackson resulting in four injuries, but no fatalities, according to WRD spokeswoman Melissa Cummings.

Statewide, there have been 124 boating incidents, 10 boating incident-related fatalities and 53 total drownings.

WRD Conservation Rangers have also issued a total of 158 boating under the influence citations.

"While we will certainly see some boaters on the water over the holiday weekend, I don't expect the Labor Day weekend to be as intense as Memorial Day or 4th of July. Schools seem to be starting earlier, and that appears to have taken some of the bigger crowds out of the water on this particular weekend," Cummings said. "However, we certainly still want people to exercise caution on the water and obey the laws."

The WRD offers these tips for a safe holiday:

· There are no "driving lanes" on the water, so boat operators need to be educated on the rules of the road and remain aware of all other boat traffic in the area. The 100-foot law prohibits people from operating all vessels, including personal watercraft (i.e. PWC, jet skis), at a speed greater than idle speed within 100 feet of any vessel that is moored, anchored or adrift outside normal traffic channels, or within 100 feet of any dock, wharf, pier, piling, bridge structure, person in the water or shoreline adjacent to a full-time or part-time residence, public park, public beach, public swimming area, marina, restaurant or other public use area.

· Wear a life jacket. Nine out of 10 drowning victims did not. Children under the age of 10 are required by law to wear a life jacket while on board a moving boat, unless the child is in a fully enclosed cabin.

· Do not drink alcohol and operate a boat. Half of all boating fatalities involve alcohol. Alcohol can affect people much more rapidly on the water - the boat's movement, vibration, noise and glare, and the sun and wind create a so-called boater's hypnosis. Make sure a designated operator refrains from drinking alcohol to safely operate the boat.

· Use navigation lights at all times on the water at night, whether the boat is moving or anchored. Do not wait until dark to turn your lights on to see if they are functioning properly.

· Do not overload your boat with people or equipment. Check the capacity plate on the boat that indicates the maximum weight capacity or the maximum number of people that the boat can safely carry.

· Brush up on your boating safety knowledge. Take a boating safety course. There are three easy ways for boat operators to take a course in Georgia - in a classroom, on the Internet at www.boat-ed.com or through a home study course that can either be ordered on the Internet at www.boat-ed.com or by calling 800-460-9698.

In addition, due to Georgia's current drought situation and the effects on area lakes and waterways, WRD advises boaters to be extra cautious and aware of possible navigational obstructions while on the water.

"Boaters should be on the lookout for such obstructions as trees, debris and land areas that normally are well under the water's surface," West said. "Even if you are familiar with a particular body of water, we encourage you to boat with caution to protect your vessel and your occupants."

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: Boating Tips

The Wildlife Resources Division offers these tips for a safe holiday:

· There are no "driving lanes" on the water, so boat operators need to be educated on the rules of the road and remain aware of all other boat traffic in the area.

· Wear a life jacket. Nine out of 10 drowning victims did not. Children under the age of 10 are required by law to wear a life jacket while on board a moving boat, unless the child is in a fully enclosed cabin.

· Do not drink alcohol and operate a boat. Half of all boating fatalities involve alcohol. Alcohol can affect people much more rapidly on the water - the boat's movement, vibration, noise and glare, and the sun and wind create a so-called boater's hypnosis.

· Use navigation lights at all times on the water at night, whether the boat is moving or anchored.

· Do not overload your boat with people or equipment. Check the capacity plate on the boat that indicates the maximum weight capacity or the maximum number of people that the boat can safely carry.

· Brush up on your boating safety knowledge. Take a boating safety course.