SAFETY RESOURCES FOR BOATING AND SWIMMING
As often happens on large bodies of water, Lake Lanier has claimed lives through boating accidents and drownings. However, many of those tragedies could have been avoided if the law and/or safety precautions had been followed. Lakeside strives to provide helpful safety resources related to Georgia law, boating, and swimming so that your experience is a safe one. The information below is a quick guide to resources for safe boating and swimming in the Lanier area.
SAFETY CLASSES and INFORMATION
Tips for surviving a tumble into a cold lake
As Autumn chills the air, the water also cools. One of the most dangerous aspects of boating or other activities near chilly lake water is the risk of hypothermia. It can occur when a person is suddenly immersed in cold water. When an individual falls into very cold water, there is only a limited time before he begins to lose thinking capability and the use of limbs. According to BoatU.S. Foundation, many drowning victims do not actually die from water filling their lungs, but instead from the fatal effects of cold water. BoatU.S. offers the following tips for surviving a cold water fall:
- Splash! Now what? If you see yourself about to fall in, if possible, cover your face with your hands to avoid a sudden involuntary intake of water and gulping water into your lungs.
- Try to hold onto something that floats. If you are wearing a life preserver, great. If there are more floating in the water, grab those too to use as floats. Try to hold onto your boat, or even right the boat and climb inside (some boats are inherently buoyant and float even when filled with water). The idea is to get as much of your body out of the water as possible, so there is less area that can lose heat.
- Conserve what heat you can. Tighten up your jacket, vest, shoes, whatever you are wearing. Try and keep your legs together, and your arms close to your body. Most importantly, try to keep your head dry and try to always wear a hat. You will lose over half of your body heat through your head. Even a mesh ball cap will help retain body heat. The water trapped inside your layers of clothes will warm up from your body heat and act like a wetsuit. Do not remove clothing!
- Do not try to swim unless it is to reach a nearby boat, another person, or a floating object on which you can climb or use for floatation. Swimming pumps out the warm water trapped between your skin and your clothes and brings in colder water. Swimming can also cause debilitating cramps. Furthermore, the movement pumps warm blood to your extremities, where it cools quickly. Swimming can reduce your survival time by almost 50 percent.
- Stay as still as possible. Getting into the Heat Escape Lessening Position, or H.E.L.P. aims to protect some of the areas of your body most prone to heat loss – the head, neck, sides of the chest cavity, and the groin area. If you are wearing a life jacket, this position can be very effective. To reach this position, you should bring your knees up as close as possible to your chest and grasp your hands together over your chest. If this is too difficult, or too unstable, cross your calves, bend your knees and pull your legs close to your body. Cross your arms and tuck your hands flat under your armpits.
These survival positions are most effective when the person in the water is wearing a life jacket. If the person is not wearing a PFD and is forced to swim, they should do so as slowly as possible. Anything that can be used for flotation – logs, parts of the boat, gas cans, whatever – should be utilized for flotation. The swimmer can also try breathing into his clothing to put air – and hopefully some floatation – into his torso area.
More info: www.boatus.org
Be prepared for fall boating
Recreational boaters and anglers heading out on the lake after Labor Day generally observe some changes from their summer days on the water. Boaters need to follow a safety playbook appropriate for this time of year. Shorter daylight hours, fewer boats on the lake, and cooler temperatures make fall boating safety different from peak season. The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water offers some tips for the changing season:
- The sun is in your face and the breeze may be warm, but below the keel, the water temperature is dropping. A simple fall overboard at this time of year can be a big problem if you can’t get back into the boat. What is your plan to get back aboard especially if you’re boating solo? Wearing a life jacket can buy you critical time to get back in the boat.
- You need to let someone know where you’re going and what time you’ll be back. That’s because there are significantly fewer boaters on the water at this time of year to bail you out if there’s trouble. A float plan left with family or friends is simple to do, and don’t forget to check back in upon your return
- With temperature fluctuations, fog takes only a short time to appear. If you’re headed out on the open water, carrying a compass and chart should be a bare minimum.
- Check your communications gear, including your VHF radio and all of its wired connections. Handheld VHFs should be fully charged before you go, and remember that cell phone batteries don’t last as long when you’re using fishing or charting apps.
- Layer up. It may be sunny when you head out, but a short rain squall and temperature drop with clouds in the afternoon can serve up a case of hypothermia pretty quick. Be prepared for big swings in the weather.
Prevent Drowning: Practice Water Safety, “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go”
By mid-summer, seven people had drowned on Lake Lanier in 2014, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The total thus far was more than half the number of drownings reported during 1999, which claimed the greatest number of drowning victims on record for Lake Lanier, 11. Ten drowned in 2011.
The Georgia DNR and American Red Cross offer the following water safety tips to help avoid becoming a victim and how to help if you witness a swimmer in trouble:
- Practice water safety
- Take swimming lessons, learn to swim.
- If you are a marginal or non-swimmer, wear a properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
- Know your swimming limits and stay within them.
- Beware that “too much”, too much strenuous activity, sun or distance from safety, can lead to “too late.”
How to Recognize an Emergency
- Many emergencies can happen quickly and silently. A distressed swimmer or drowning victim needs help immediately!
- A swimmer in distress may still try to swim but makes little or no forward progress. If not helped, a swimmer in distress will soon become a drowning victim.
- An active drowning victim may be vertical in the water but unable to move forward or tread water. An active drowning victim may try to press down with the arms at the side in an instinctive attempt to keep the head above the water.
- A passive drowning victim is motionless and floating face down on the bottom or near the surface of the water.
- Do not assume that a swimmer in distress is joking or playing around.
Know how to respond to an aquatic emergency
- If someone is missing, check the water first.
- Reach or throw, don’t go. Ring buoys or reaching poles, or even a water jug tied to a rope, broom, sturdy fishing pole, or stick can help pull a potential victim to safety.
- Know how and when to call 911 or the local emergency number.
- Enroll in Red Cross water safety, first aid, and CPR courses to learn what to do.
Have the right equipment
- Have reaching and throwing equipment on hand.
- Whenever boating or near water, even if you don’t expect to go in, always have U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets available. Life jackets should be the proper size for each individual and in good condition.
- Have cell phones or portable phones nearby to help ensure that you can quickly call 911 in the event of an emergency.
- Have a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand. Ensure that you know how to use the equipment and that expiration dates have not passed.
Note: Georgia law requires that all children younger than 13 wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Device (life jacket) while onboard any moving vessel, except when the child is in a fully enclosed cabin. All vessels must have at least one USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V life PRD for each person on board. Type V PFDs are only acceptable when worn and securely fastened. Personal watercraft operators and riders must wear an approved PFD that is properly fitted and fastened. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for use on PWCs. See the Georgia Department of Natural Resources “Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibilities” for more information on PFDs.
Boater Education Courses with Certification Exam
- Course: Meets Georgia DNR and NASBLA requirements for boater and PWC certification; covers boat handling, safety equipment/procedures, rules of the road, boat types/terminology.
- Instructors: America’s Boating Club – Atlanta (formerly Atlanta Sail and Power Squadron)
- When: Virtual 3-session classes OR in-person Full-day Class:
- In-person – Saturday, May 13
- Virtual 3 sessions – May 31, June 7, 10
- In-person – Saturday, July 8
- Virtual 3 sessions – August 2, 9, 12
- Cost: $25 per student
- Information/registration: America’s Boating Club – Atlanta, Email – ABC@usps-atlanta.org
- Course: NASBLA certified entry-level classroom-only course with a test for boater education and PWC certification. Covers basic boating terminology, “rules of the road,” navigation, operation, legal requirements, emergencies, water etiquette, and more.
- Instructors: U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers
- Minimum age: 12
- When: 8:30 am-3:30 pm; April 15, May 20, June 17, July 15, Aug 19, Sept 16, Oct 21
- Where: U.S. Coast Guard Flotilla 29, 6595 Lights Ferry Rd., Flowery Branch
- Cost: Individuals $35; bring lunch
- Information/registration: Hector Colon, firstname.lastname@example.org, 678-778-2131; http://wow.uscgaux.info/peclass.php?unit=070-02-09
- www.boat-ed.com and http://www.boaterexam.com/usa/georgia include a study guide and Georgia Certification Exam with unlimited exam attempts; cost is $34.95 payable upon exam passage. Temporary certificate printed upon passage; permanent card mailed.
- www.boatus.org/free offers free course, exam and print your own certificate; mailed certificate $5.
Boater Education Courses without Certification Exam
Advanced Boating Classes in piloting, marine communications, and other boating skills offered periodically by America’s Boating Club – Atlanta. www.americasboatingclubatlanta.org.
Boaters born after Jan. 1, 1998 must take Boater Ed class
The boater education law requires that any person born after Jan. 1, 1998 must complete a boater education course approved by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources before he or she may legally operate a motorized vessel (this includes personal watercraft) on Georgia state waters. A person is exempt from the mandatory education requirement if he or she is licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a master of a vessel or operates on a private lake or pond or is a non-resident with proof that he or she has completed a nationally approved boater education course or equivalency exam in another state. Persons younger than 12 may not legally operate a personal watercraft. Youngsters, age 12 to 15 may legally operate a PWC only if they have passed a DNR-approved boating safety class or are accompanied by a competent adult (age 18 or older who is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and who is carrying proper identification such as a driver’s license or government-issued identification with a description of the person, photograph and date of birth).
Windsong Sailing Academy: Basic and advanced sailing training and certifications including engine maintenance, marine electrical systems, coastal and celestial navigation, marine meteorology and emergency planning. Public and private week evening and weekend classes available. Fees vary. www.WindsongSail.com. (770) 967-1515.
SWIM LESSONS/ AQUATIC PROGRAMS
Frances Meadows Aquatics and Community Center
1545 Community Way, Gainesville
Information/registration: (770) 533-5850, Swim Lessons
Lessons: Swimming and water safety program for all ages and levels, age 6 months to masters, basic aquatics safety to skill proficiency for competitive swimmers.
Lanier Aquatics Swim Team: Competitive swimming groups for Rookie (age 4) through Masters (age 18 and older); www.gainesville.org/753/Lanier-Aquatics-Swim-Team
Georgia Mountain YMCA
2455 Howard Rd., Gainesville
Information/registration: (770) 297-9622 Swim Lessons
Swim lessons: for all ages and levels, parent-child swim, Masters Swim Program, water fitness, water safety, lifeguard certification. Fees and times vary.
Cumming Aquatic Center
201 Aquatic Circle, Cumming
Information/registration: (770) 781-1781 Online Registration
Lessons: Swimming and water safety program range from toddler-age in Parent-Child Aquatics Program to teens and adults in Learn to Swim and Adult Aquatics Program. Private or semi-private lessons are available. Fees and schedules vary. Competitive swimming and diving programs, Masters Swim Team also available. Lifeguard certification offered.
5396 Lanier Islands Parkway, Buford
- Information/registration: www.gwinnettswim.com, 404-590-7946
- Swim lessons: For all ages and levels. Fees and times vary.
5059 Post Road, Cumming, 770-888-0010
1152 Auburn Road, Dacula, 678-889-2039
4050 Johns Creek Parkway, Suwanee, 770-622-1735
other Atlanta locations
- Information/registration: www.gwinnettswim.com, 404-590-7946
- Swim lessons: For all ages and levels. Fees and times vary.
Vessel Safety Checks
- Atlanta Sail and Power Squadron offers vessel safety check-ups by appointment; americasboatingclubatlanta.org/vessel-safety-check.
- Vessel Safety Checks by appointment: Both U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons offer vessel safety check-ups at your boat by appointment. www.safetyseal.net.