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Dec. 5, 2020
7:29 pm


USCGA column

Safe boating courses 

Flotilla 29 of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Lake Lanier offers the “About Boating Safely” course. New courses will be offered in 2021. This course also serves as a PWC certified course for children under the age of 16. 
This course will be given at the Bunzi Operations Center, 6595 Lights Ferry Rd., Flowery Branch, Ga., on the left just before the entrance to Aqualand Marina. Classes run from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and cost is $30. Discounts available for additional family members.
Course contents include:
  • Know your boat
  • Before getting underway
  • Navigating the waterways
  • Operating your vessel safely
  • Boating’s legal requirements
  • Boating emergencies
  • Enjoying watersports
  • State of Georgia regulations
Any person born after January 1, 1998, must have completed a boater education course approved by the Ga. DNR before he or she may legally operate a motorized vessel on Georgia state waters. Successful completion of this course may result in a reduction in your boat’s insurance premium.  
INFO: Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier:


October 2016 column

Fall is fun boating with fewer people on the lake

October and November can be a great time of the year to take the family and friends out for a day of recreational boating, picnicking, leaf viewing and generally having a great time. Air temperatures are just right to brisk and water temps are still in the moderate range. At the time of the writing of this article, Lake Lanier is about 5 feet below normal pool, a rare occurrence compared to past years.  
While recreational boating slows down during the fall, fishermen and some boaters will still find their way out on the water for a day of relaxation and fun. The Coast Guard Auxiliary closes its Operation Center at the end of September, so we will not be monitoring radio traffic until next May.
Boating accident statistics give us a warning, however, about boating during October, November and December. I have access to U.S. Coast Guard boating accident statistics for 2014, and they give us reason to be concerned. Trauma, drowning and hypothermia continue to rank 1, 2 and 3 as causes of death on the water. The highest percentage of accidents resulting in death occurred in October (17 percent), November (20 percent) and December (19 percent). The other nine months ranged from 11 percent to 20 percent (April.).  
Hypothermia is not “freezing to death,” nor is it “frostbite,” and it can kill at temperatures well above freezing. To give you an idea of how much time you have if you fall overboard when the water temperature drops, consider this: water temperature 50-60 degrees, unconsciousness can occur in 1-2 hours, death 1-6 hours. If water temperature is 40-50 degrees, unconsciousness can occur in 30-60 minutes, death 1-3 hours. If you plan to be on the water this fall and winter, there are things you can do to prevent hypothermia.
  • Try to avoid boating alone. It’s nice to have help on your boat in emergencies.
  • Avoid situations that promote loss of body heat. Stay dry and out of the cold wind.
  • Wear your life jacket, since it will help keep preserve body heat, and in the event you fall overboard you will be better able to return to the boat.  
  • Proper clothing makes a big difference. Wool clothing is much better than synthetics.
  • Have a blanket or two on board to warm anyone who may need them, whether or not anyone falls overboard.

Remember, too, that there will probably not be many other boaters around you during this time of the year, meaning “Good Samaritans” will be scarce. Should you find yourself in the position of rescuing someone who possibly is suffering from hypothermia, keep this in mind: their energy resources are minimal. Have them do as little as possible to help you in their rescue.  They may deplete what energy reserves they have left.  Hypothermic people have died after rescue because of their exertion during the rescue.
Fall boating can be a wonderful experience, but one needs to exercise caution since the rules have changed some from summer boating. To learn more about cold weather boating and other important facets of recreational boating, consider taking our one-day “About Boating Safety” course being offered at Lake Lanier from February through October each year. Announcements of our courses are printed in this newspaper and in other lake area newspapers during those months.
Please plan to visit our safety booth at the Atlanta Boat Show January 14-17, 2016. We will again be located in the rear of the exhibit area where the 10’x10’ booths are situated at the Georgia World Congress Center, and will have ample free safe boating brochures available. You will also be able to speak with our knowledgeable Auxiliarists on duty should you have questions. Safe boating course schedules for 2016 will be available for many of the flotillas in north Georgia.

August 2016 column

What maritime law says about speed as a factor in boating accicents

We have observed a number of recreational boating accidents, injuries and fatalities on Lake Lanier during the last few years, one recently that resulted in the death of four adults. This was a tragic event and our thoughts and prayers go out to all family members and friends. None of the four were wearing life jackets, but that is not the point of this article. Some observers said that the “cigarette” type boat was going fast, hit a wave, and got airborne, flipping over several times.  Another report did not mention that the boat was traveling at an “excessive” speed.
2014 U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accidents Statistics revealed that excessive speed ranked No. 4 out of 30 parameters as the primary contributing factor of accidents. It ranked No. 3 in injuries and No. 4 in fatalities, so we can see that excessive speed is an important factor in our boating experiences.
Now, that raises an important question that we as Coast Guard Auxiliary instructors frequently get asked in our safe boating classes, and that is: Just what is a “safe speed” and what is “excessive” speed? As you probably know, there are no speed limits on Lake Lanier or on other waters, but there are limitations and conditions that dictate what a “safe speed” really is for a given day. 
In the U.S. Coast Guard’s Navigational Rules, International and Inland, Rule 6 deals with safe speed. “Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. In determining a safe speed, the following factors shall be among those taken into account by all vessels:
  • the state of visibility
  • the traffic density including concentration of fishing vessels or any other vessels
  • the maneuverability of the vessel with special reference to stopping distance and turning ability in the prevailing conditions
  • at night, the presence of background light such as from shore lights or from back scatter of her own lights
  • the state of wind, sea and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards
  • the draft in relation to the available depth of water.

The rule then discusses vessels with operational radar which we will not cover here. In our About Boating Safely course, we see “failure to regulate speed and distance,” that is, operating a vessel at speeds that may cause danger, injury, damage or unnecessary inconvenience. Be aware of and obey all regulatory markers, including those marked idle speed or no wake speed. Also, always maintain a safe distance from other boats, persons in the water or any other objects in the water.
In our other safe boating course titled “Boating Skills & Seamanship,” we see that under  “safe speed” the following: “The rules require all vessels to proceed at safe speeds so they can stop or take proper and effective action to avoid collisions.” The rules do not say what a safe speed is. They do say that a safe speed depends on “visibility, traffic density, and the maneuverability of your vessel, sea state, current, wind, and other factors.” If you were to have a collision, you probably would be judged to have been traveling at an unsafe speed.
The Navigational Rules were written to avoid collisions with other boats or objects, but we also must take into consideration an accident caused by speed where there is no collision, such as what happened several weeks ago on Lake Lanier.

The person operating the vessel, the skipper, is responsible for the operation of the boat and the conduct of their crew, a good thing to keep in mind.

July 2016 column

Follow the rules on the water and survive

There are established and proven rules for flying airplanes, driving cars and piloting boats. We have all read of instances where someone breaks these rules and injury or death results. Here is a recent example.
Four or five years ago, in the Gulf of Mexico, four fishermen launched a 21-foot fishing boat from a ramp in Clearwater, Fla. From Coast Guard reports and from the lone survivor this is what we know about the incident: The weather forecast indicated that a cold front would pass over the Gulf later in the day. The fishing destination was 60 miles offshore. By Saturday afternoon winds offshore were 10 to 15 knots with 4 to 6 foot seas. They were a long way from home. Are you getting the picture? What would you be thinking about now? It is now 5:30 p.m. and as they are getting ready to leave their anchor is hung on something on the bottom. Reports indicated that in an attempt to free the anchor, they tied the anchor line to the stern of the vessel with the intention of pulling the line in another direction. This positions the stern into the wind, not downwind as would be the case of an anchor line being tied in its proper position, to the bow of the boat. The boat filled with water and capsized. Each man grabbed a life jacket (which should have already been put on) and attempted to stay with the boat. That evening, the cold front produced 30-40 knot winds and 10-15 foot seas. Three men drifted away and probably died of hypothermia. The fourth was able to climb up onto the overturned boat and hang on for 40 hours and was finally rescued. His body temperature had dropped to 89 degrees.  
Here are the safe boating rules that were broken (and are taught in Coast Guard Auxiliary safe boating courses):
  • Always consider the weather and err on the side of caution.
  • Carry a sharp knife. If you can’t free the anchor and time is critical, cut the line.
  • When going offshore that distance, your VHF marine radio will not reach back to shore. You should have an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).  Such a device, when activated, will give your position via satellite to the Coast Guard. By the way, they can be rented for a given trip.
  • Just a few years ago, I heard a radio report of a drowning on Lake Allatoona resulting when a PWC driver or rider fell off the vessel and was not wearing a life jacket.  The Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibilities states that “each person riding on a PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device that is properly fitted and fastened. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for use on PWCs.”

So, if established and proven safe boating rules and practices can help save us from injury and even death, how do we get to know what they are? You can take a Coast Guard approved safe boating course, learning from the lesson book, videos, Power Point presentations and from class discussion. It is ironic, when you think about it, that you must have instruction and certification to pilot an airplane or drive an automobile, but you can go buy a boat and take off, with no instruction or appreciation of the possible hazards awaiting you, and too many people do just that. Don’t allow yourself or your family members to be victims on the water due to inexperience or lack of instruction and information.

June 2016 column

About the combination of boating, alcohol and guests

It is my practice to scan a number of Coast Guard Auxiliary, professional and commercial publications as I prepare these articles for publication. I was prompted to select this topic after reviewing the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2015 Boating Accident Statistics, published annually by the U.S. Coast Guard. We all know that it is illegal in Georgia to drive an automobile with an open container of alcohol on board but it is not prohibited to do the same while operating a boat.  So where does that leave us as recreational boaters when it comes to having a fun time on the water with alcoholic drinks being consumed by the skipper and/or passengers? I am not a lawyer and not giving legal advice here, but I simply want to give you something to think about when this subject comes up.
In our popular “Boating Skills & Seamanship” course, we cover this subject in Chapter 2, under “Substance Abuse.” We remind students that alcohol is a contributing factor in many boating accidents and deaths. “Legal issues aside, drugs and alcohol have no place on a boat. Operating a boat is usually a simple, relaxed affair, but a single wrong choice at a single moment of inattention can turn an afternoon outing into a disaster.”  During 2015, there were 626 boating fatalities and 2,613 injuries in the U.S., with 17 percent of the deaths involving alcohol, used either by the victim or by another person involved in the incident.  So, how much alcohol is “too much?” The federal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) has been changed from 0.10 to 0.08, which reinforces the concern for alcohol abuse.

In Georgia, it is illegal for those under the age of 21 to operate a boat or PWC if their alcohol level is 0.02 or more. Those 21 years of age or older are considered to be under the influence, and may not operate a boat or PWC, if their BAC level is 0.08 or more or if drugs are detected. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Rangers who enforce the law on our lakes will check BAC on suspected skippers should they deem it necessary. It is interesting, also, that Georgia law also contains a provision stating that if a person found operating a boat or PWC under the influence while a child under the age of 14 years is onboard, is also guilty of the charge of endangering a child. So we’re talking serious business here.
Now, what about the liability you assume for the other people aboard who have been drinking, even if you haven’t had a drop of alcohol and are completely sober.  “Seaworthy” has reported frequently of claims filed where intoxicated guests, after losing their balance and perception, have had serious falls, even while the boat is still tied to the dock. Guests have drowned after falling or diving overboard and toxicology reports showed a high BAC level, a condition that was not always noticed by the skipper or other guests. Lawsuits have been filed against skippers in such cases and the complaints always allege that the skipper should have known of the guest’s condition and prevented their injury or death.

So you may ask yourself what is a sober and otherwise competent skipper supposed to do? For one thing, the skipper should limit the amount of alcohol consumed aboard the boat and stop serving drinks to someone who is intoxicated.” The skipper should also ask that such guests should be instructed to remain seated at all times while underway and you should do your best to make sure they comply. You may also want to consider not inviting friends who have a problem with alcohol.

April 2016 column

Check your boat's required equipment before the season

We have enjoyed spring-like temperatures that made us the envy of many in the colder regions of our country. Actually, we have been blessed with a relatively mild winter this year. Weather that most of us prefer before taking our boats out of “moth balls” is basically here. The next few weeks will be a perfect time to make a check of state of Georgia required equipment to make sure you have everything you need before venturing out onto the water. Some equipment has expiration dates, so that needs to be checked as well. Requirements vary according to the length of your vessel. In this article I will cover only the categories of equipment, since space will not allow a complete discussion. 
For a complete explanation of all the Georgia laws covering equipment, please refer to the “Handbook of Georgia Boating Laws and Responsibilities” which is published annually by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The booklets are available at boating supply stores, marinas and many marine dealers. The Coast Guard Auxiliary has a program to distribute these and other safe boating material to these of businesses. We also cover this subject in our one-day “About Boating Safely” public education course.
State registration
Your vessel must have an in date State of Georgia decal posted on each side of the bow, just ahead of the state issued numbers. These numbers must be three inch high block letters properly spaced and of a contrasting color from the color of your boat. Letters and numbers must be separated by a space or hyphen. You must also have your state issued registration card on board along with a photo ID. For registration information please visit:
Personal floatation devices
All vessels must have at least one USCG approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket for each person on board, and they must fit properly.  In addition, Type V PFDs are acceptable only when worn and are securely fastened. Children under the age of 10 must wear their jacket unless they are in a fully enclosed cabin. In 90 percent of drownings, the person was not wearing a life jacket.
Navigation lights
Failure to operate the necessary lights is one of the leading causes of fatal accidents in Georgia. Lights must be turned on from “sundown to sunrise” and during other times of limited visibility such as during rain, heavy haze, or fog. If you are planning to cruise late in the afternoon and may not return until after sundown, it is a good idea to check your lighting before you leave the dock or launching ramp.
Visual distress signals
Visual distress signals allow vessel operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency, and you will need signals appropriate for both daylight and darkness.  Commonly used signals include hand held orange smoke, hand held red flares, orange flag, electric light, mirror or arm signal (waving extended arms to the side up and down). Some visual distress signals exhibit a date of manufacture and an expiration date. They must be in date to pass inspection.
Sound producing devices
In periods of reduced visibility or whenever a vessel operator needs to signal his or her intentions or position, a sound-producing device is essential. If on state waters, like Lake Lanier, vessels under 26 feet are not required to have such a device, but it is highly recommended, and many smaller boats come equipped with a horn.  Vessels larger than 26 feet must have a horn or whistle or other sound-producing devices. You want people to know where you are, especially at night or in fog.
Fire extinguishers
Most vessels are required to have a Type B fire extinguisher on board, in serviceable condition, and readily available, not in a box hidden away in some compartment.  Everyone on board should know where they are located and how to use them. Fire has a tendency to come at you quickly and without warning. The size and number of fire extinguishers required varies with the size of your vessel. I was discussing this subject with an “old salt” at a dock on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway several years ago and he made a very profound statement which I never forgot: “You can’t have too many or too large fire extinguishers on board, but you surely can have too few and too small ones.” Make sure the needle on the little round dial on the fire extinguisher is pointed in the “green” zone, indicating that it is ready for use
Ventilation systems
The purpose of ventilation systems is to avoid explosions by removing flammable gases. All gasoline powered vessels must have at least two ventilation ducts fitted with cowls to remove fumes.  If your vessel is equipped with a power ventilation system, turn it on for at least four minutes both after fueling and before starting your engine. I make it a practice to lift the engine hatch cover and stick my nose in the engine compartment and give it a good “sniff.”
Backfire flame arrestors
Because boat engines may backfire, all powerboats (except outboards) that are fueled with gasoline must have a USCG approved backfire flame arrestor on each carburetor of every engine.  Periodically clean the flame arrestor and check for any damage.  If your vessel has been in the shop for engine repair, check to ensure that the arrestor has been reseated.
Vessel operators may not hear sound signals or voices if the engine is not properly muffled.  The exhaust on every internal combustion engine used on any vessel must be muffled or baffled and water injected (except those engines where the exhaust goes through the lower unit or outdrive) so as to decrease noise.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers free Vessel Safety Checks where we check to ensure that your vessel has the proper required equipment and that it is in good working order, and we award you with a windshield decal for your vessel showing that you passed the check. There is no penalty for failing, and we will recheck your vessel after you’ve made corrections.

March 2016 column

Spring is the time to get a free vessel safety check

When was the last time you got anything worthwhile that was truly free? What about getting something free that could save your life or keep you out of trouble with law enforcement? The Vessel Safety Check program helps to achieve voluntary compliance with federal, state and local recreational boating safety laws, particularly regarding the carriage of safety equipment, and has been around since 1947. It was introduced as a “free” service and it still is. It also heightens the boaters’ awareness of safety issues through one-on-one contact by Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel examiners.
This time of the year, recreational boaters are thinking boating again. Many of these vessels have been in “mothballs” for 3-4 months, or more professionally referred to as having been “winterized.” Now is the perfect time to consider contacting a Coast Guard Auxiliarist who is a qualified “Vessel Examiner” and setting up a time for the safety check. We have 17 certified vessel examiners working on and around Lake Lanier, and our examiners are prepared to come to your home or dock at a time convenient to you. During 2015, our team examined 710 vessels, including PWCs, on Lanier.
Beginning in 2014, the Coast Guard Auxiliary added canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to the types of vessels qualifying for our Vessel Safety Check program. The growth of these types of watercraft has been tremendous in the past few years and the Coast Guard considers them as much a “vessel” as a cruiser or houseboat, and are subject to the rules of operation as are other vessels. (Title 1 United States Code, Section 3.)
This service is not a vessel “survey,” but is a comprehensive check of all the safety features of your vessel and also a check of all the equipment and safety requirements dictated by state and federal law.  Remember, too, that there is no penalty if your vessel fails for one reason or another. After you make the correction, we will recheck your vessel and issue you our windshield decal, indicating that your vessel has passed inspection. Law enforcement on state waters in Georgia is aware of our Vessel Safety Check program and recognize the decal when they see it.
Following is a list of the items we check:
  • Proper Display of Numbers. State laws are very specific about just how this is done and, yet, it is one of the most ignored processes we see.
  • Registration/documentation. Proof of ownership and/or compliance with state registration must be on board.
  • Personal Flotation Devices. There must be an adequate number on board, they must be serviceable, must fit the wearer, and must be Coast Guard approved.
  • Visual Distress Signals. You must be able to attract attention when needed.
  • Fire Extinguishers. There must be an adequate number and correct size on board as dictated by the size of your vessel, and they must be fully operable.
  • Ventilation. Applies to inboard engines and inboard-outboard (stern drive) types of propulsion.
  • Backfire Flame Control. This is a factory installed mechanism that sits atop your carburetor and prevents flames, caused by engine backfiring, from entering your engine compartment.
  • Sound Producing Devices. You must have sufficient capacity to make noise to attract attention based on the size of your vessel.
  • Navigation Lights. They must be adequate for your vessel, placed properly, and must work. If you have a practice of always boating during daylight hours, in sunshine, you may never turn them on to see if they actually function properly.
  • State and local requirements.
  • Overall Vessel Condition. Is the vessel “seaworthy” or are there some problems that really stand out that could prove to be a risk for the occupants?

This is also a great time for the skipper to ask questions of the Auxiliarist dealing with marine issues, Coast Guard Auxiliary programs, and the like. We will also discuss with you other issues such as reporting of accidents, charts and aids to navigation, survival tips, fueling/fuel management, float plans, weather and sea conditions, value of marine radios (handheld and installed), and safe boating courses available in the area.
As you can see, there’s really more to this business of recreational boating than meets the eye. You can buy and run a boat without training, but it is not a wise thing to do. When the weather is perfect and few boats are on the water, most anyone could operate a boat, but when things are not perfect, and they rarely are, your knowledge and experience can save your life and the lives of your “precious cargo.”
Dan Vaccaro is our Flotilla Staff Officer in charge of our Vessel Safety Check program and he can be contacted at

February 2016 column

Are PWCs really more dangerous than boats?

Most of us who cruise around Lake Lanier have had occasions when, seemingly out of nowhere, comes a PWC, measuring us for a wake jump or determining if they can cross our bow without getting run down. My opinion of these things has been that they are noise makers, scooting around like water bugs, interrupting what would otherwise be a nice day on the lake.  However, we do use them in our Auxiliary safety and regatta patrols.

Each year, starting in May, we observe National Safe Boating Week, when a number of marine organizations join together in recognizing and promoting safe recreational boating practices and urging boaters to wear a life jacket while on the water. As Public Affairs Officer for Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier, I am supplied with countless statistics relating to boating accidents and deaths and what could be done to prevent some of this carnage on the water. We see our share of this on Lake Lanier as our lake becomes more crowded, particularly on weekends and holidays.

One of the things that stands out when reviewing boating accident statistics is the large percentage of PWC accidents relative to the small percentage PWCs represent of the total number of boats. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, PWCs are involved in 30 percent of all reported boating accidents and 36 percent of all boating injuries take place on PWCs. The National Marine Manufacturers Association states that PWCs represent only nine percent of all registered vessels, making them appear to be more dangerous.

So what’s going on here? Are they a more dangerous vessel than other types of boats, or are there other factors? Well, maybe both.  Certainly they handle differently.  They are quick and agile and can turn on a dime. PWCs don’t have brakes (though some are now claiming to have a breaking system) and can take up to 300 feet to stop from 60 mph. They have very limited slow-speed maneuverability and nearly no maneuverability at high speeds when the throttle is suddenly closed. Since these craft are able to turn much sharper and faster than a typical boat, the forces generated can and do throw the operator into the water. There has been some improvement in newer models that have devices that assist off-throttle steering.

When you look at other accident factors like PWC operators, startling information immediately surfaces. According to “Seaworthy,” the BOAT/US marine insurance and damage avoidance report, “a large percentage of PWC accidents involved inexperienced riders.  USCG statistics bear this out as well. Most accidents involve operators in the 11-20 year old age group. According to the accident claim files, owners were involved in only 18 percent of the accidents, owner’s siblings (29 percent), and friends (53 percent).” It is apparent that these vessels are looked upon more as “toys,” that you might share, than as boats, subject to the same marine laws as other vessels.  In addition, according to a National Transportation and Safety Board report, “roughly 84 percent of PWC accidents involved operators who had no boating safety education or instruction. In fact, 73 percent had been riding less than an hour when their accident occurred.  Forty-eight percent of those injured had never operated a PWC or had done so only once.”

A new Georgia law originating on July 1, 2014, states that “any person born after January 1, 1998, must have completed a boat education course approved by the DNR before he or she may legally operate a motorized vessel on Georgia state waters.”

For those of you riding in a boat other than a PWC, keep a watch at all times while underway, for the PWC in your vicinity may be operated by a limited experienced rider, or worse, a first time rider, on a “loaner”! For PWCs operators who may be reading this article, if you have not taken a safe boating course offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, I urge you to get lined up with one as soon as possible by contacting: Flotilla 29 Lake Lanier at (770) 393-4382 or

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