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Officials urge boating safety over Labor Day holiday

COVINGTON -- For many the long Labor Day weekend will be the "last hurrah" on the water for the summer of 2012. Thankfully, there have been no water-related deaths recorded in Newton or Rockdale counties this year, and officials are urging safety to make sure the record goes unblemished.

They join the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division in stressing the importance of safety for all boat drivers and passengers.

"Holiday weekends create a need for increased safety awareness from all boaters," said DNR Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver. "As always, conservation rangers will 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."

Statewide this year there have been 98 boating incidents, nine boating-related fatalities and 33 drownings. Conservation rangers have issued a total of 167 boating under the influence citations.

According to Newton County Sheriff's Office 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell, BUIs have not been a problem on Lake Jackson this year where the NCSO staffs a patrol boat.

"I don't think we've had any reports or detected anyone boating under the influence," Mitchell said, who added that the patrol would be active over the Labor Day weekend. "Our guys will be on the lake targeting any suspicious activity and making sure people are following safety regulations as far as life vests and things like that. They'll go into the coves and along the shoreline doing patrols of residences just like road patrols would do when they do security checks."

Mitchell said the NCSO has not investigated water-related accidents or deaths this season and said he thought low water levels of lakes and streams due to lack of rainfall was a factor.

The DNR gives the following tips for safe boating:

-- Designate an operator. Do not drink and operate a boat.

-- Wear a life jacket. Children under 10 years of are are required by law to wear a life jacket while onboard a moving vessel, but it's recommended for EVERYONE to wear a life jacket.

-- Don't overload your boat with people or equipment. Check on the capacity plate for the maximum weight or the maximum number of people the boat can safely carry.

-- Use navigation lights at ALL times when on the water at night. Check lights before it gets dark.

-- Watch your speed. the 100-foot law applies to all size vessels and prohibits operation at speeds great than idle speed within 100 feet of any vessel, unless overtaking or meeting another vessel.

The DNR also urges boat owners to take a boating safety course. For more information go to www.goboatgeorgia.com/boating/safety.