Boating Safety: Do’s and Don’ts for Your Next Lake Lanier Trip

Ben Lacina

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Forsyth County Sheriff's Office Patrolling Lake Lanier(Photo/Forsyth County Sheriff's Office)

(Forsyth County, GA) Summer is nearly here, and many Georgians will be getting out of the house for outdoor activities, one of the most popular being a visit to Lake Lanier. And while visitors look forward to the lake’s Memorial Day weekend festivities, lake patrol units are urging everyone to practice safety while having fun on the water.

This week is National Boating Safety Week, a week to raise awareness on proper boating responsibilities to ensure the safety of you and your family’s boating adventures.

Busy Attraction, Potential Dangers

Lake Lanier is one of Georgia’s mainstay vacation destinations that attracts over 10 million visitors a year, and with the warm weather comes the lake’s busiest time. It is no wonder the lake attracts so many visitors with its beautiful views, 11 public marinas, and Lanier Islands Resort.

Unfortunately with this high volume of visitors, Lake Lanier has been prone to many accidents as well, some fatal. According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the lake saw four drownings and five boating fatalities in 2021. These numbers have been relatively consistent for decades with 145 drownings and 57 boating fatalities between 1999 and 2018.

While Lake Lanier gets a bad reputation for its sheer number of accidents, many argue that these accidents are more attributable to lack of safety precautions from boaters than characteristics of the lake itself. National Boating Safety Week serves to educate people on how to have a safe trip and avoid very preventable accidents.

Lt. Mike Garrison oversees the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol Unit, which patrols Lake Lanier full time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There are some factors such as changing water levels and underwater topography that contribute to the inherent dangers of Lake Lanier, but Garrison does not think this alone makes the lake more dangerous than other ones.

“Combined [with] the overcrowding of boaters, alcohol consumption, and inexperienced boaters, [these together] make the lake a recipe for potential dangers,” Garrison said.

Boating Safety Tips

John Bagwell is an experienced boater in Forsyth County who has frequented Lake Lanier for years. He is well aware of the necessary precautions, especially this time of year. On busier days, Bagwell and his family get off the lake earlier in the afternoon before boat ramps get overcrowded with other returning boaters and tend to avoid Lake Lanier on holidays altogether.

“You have to be comfortable with the knowledge that there's a lot of boats out there,” Bagwell said. “There's a lot of inexperienced boaters, and so you just have to be on the lookout.”

Bagwell’s advice to any inexperienced boater is to take a boat safety course before hitting the water. He also says renting a boat and going out on a much less crowded day like a Tuesday in April will give new boaters a chance to familiarize themselves before all of the overcrowded festivities.

“It's not inherently dangerous to be on Lake Lanier. It's carelessness. That's really the biggest problem,” Bagwell said.

It is very feasible to have a safe and fun trip to Lake Lanier, even at its busiest, but visitors must be educated and prepared to not put themselves or anyone else in danger. Garrison urges visitors to plan for emergencies and cites safety violations such as the 100 foot rule, personal flotation device requirements, and buoy violations as points of emphasis for boaters to know.

“Boating can and should be fun but can turn tragic in an instant. Respect the water and know your limits,” Garrison said.

If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, email benjaminclacina@gmail.com.

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Ben Lacina's writing experience allows him to tackle a myriad of subjects and stories. His background in science helps him use his writing experience to translate complicated topics into understandable content for a wide audience.

Athens, GA
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