GAINESVILLE - Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of the summer boating season, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is emphasizing the importance of safety for all those who plan on boating in the coming weeks.
Captain Thomas Barnard with the DNR said the agency is expecting a large amount of boating traffic this holiday weekend, especially on Lakes Lanier and Hartwell. Barnard explained the DNR will be increasing their manpower accordingly.
"This weekend, every officer with DNR will be working; no one is off," he said. "For Lake Lanier, we will be having 6 patrol boats on the water, and Lake Hartwell, we'll be using 4 patrol boats."
DNR crews will be patrolling Georgia waters to enforce all laws related to boating, but Barnard said preventing boaters from operating their vessel while intoxicated will be a point of emphasis for officers.
"We will be out in force looking for those operators that are impaired across the state, especially on Lanier and Hartwell, in order to keep those bodies of water safe," he added.
Intoxicated boaters are a continual problem that faces the agency, and DNR officials have in recent years taken to educating boaters as well as prosecuting those who break the law.
"As we stop vessels, officers will also be, from an educational standpoint, handing out our boater handbook," Barnard said. "And this particular handbook describes in detail all the state law that covers the boating environment as well as safety tips."
Barnard said that, with many boaters imbibing alcohol as they celebrate on the lake, there is a simple way to avoid trouble, and it is a method that the DNR wholly endorses: "We've been, over the last two years, pushing from a media standpoint, as well as an educational standpoint, to designate a driver for the day."
These so-called "sober boaters" not only satisfy the legal requirements for boating, Barnard said, but also provide a reliable, responsible party should any other individuals choose to drink on-board.
"Just designate that driver for the day," he continued. "There is no open container law on the boat, so folks on-board can drink as long as that driver is sober."
Barnard said while there are certain safety requirements that boaters need to be aware of, such as the law requiring any child under the age of 14 to "wear a personal flotation device, or life jacket, while the boat is in motion," simply maintaining a level of focus and determination while boating can go a long way to preventing any potential issues.
"It's just like driving on the road," he said. "You have to be vigilant of your surroundings, keep an eye on other boaters, as well as those that you have on board."
Memorial Day weekend 2014 begins Friday, May 23, and runs through Monday, May 26.