Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement officer Craig Fulghum knows just what to expect this July Fourth weekend on Lake Hartwell.
“It’s going to be busy,” he said.
With sunny skies expected and Independence Day on a Saturday, DNR officers are ramping up their patrols of the lake and urging everyone to remember the rules and how to avoid tragedy.
“What we’re seeing this year is more and more people are staying close to home because of COVID,” Fulghum said.
That means more people may be heading to a lake house instead of the beach and many of them will be taking to local waters for a little fun, he said.
“So there will be increased traffic, and with that comes inherently more problems,” Fulghum said.
He encourages boaters to think of piloting their vessel with the same care they would driving a car. Being a defensive driver is a fundamental starting point to remember, Fulghum said.
“You need to always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t assume anyone out there around you knows the boating laws, assume they don’t,” he said.
Pay attention to other boats, where they are going, and know where you need to go to avoid problems, Fulghum said.
He also urges everyone to slow down, because “the faster you go, the slower you can react.”
Every boat the DNR has in the area will be on the water and manned by officers this weekend, Fulghum added, and they will be looking for impaired drivers. Again, treat the boat like you would driving a car, he said.
“Don’t just find the person who has had the least amount to drink (to drive),” he said. “They may be the least drunk on the boat, but they’re still drunk.”
The legal limit to pilot a boat is a blood alcohol level of .08, just like driving a car, Fulghum said, so it is important to designate a driver. The penalties for a boating under the influence ticket are just as stiff as they are for driving under the influence.
There are also some basic rules all boaters must follow by law.
There should be a life jacket for each person on the boat, a serviceable fire extinguisher must be present, each boat must have a Type 4 floatation device and anyone born after Jan. 1, 1998, must have a license to operate a vessel.
Fulghum also said people swimming from docks should pay close attention to children and should have swimmers wear life vests.
“It takes less than a minute to lose a life in a water environment,” he said.
All boaters should check their bow and stern lights before heading out on the water too, he added. You don’t want to get stuck at dusk with no lights a 30-minute drive back to the dock, Fulghum said.