"It's going to be fairly busy," DNR Conservation Sgt. Mike Barr said. "With the kids in school and getting a chance to jump back on the lake, people who have not been out there recently need to know that things have changed on the lake since July 4."
Barr is referring to the annual change in lake depth.
"The water is down and the big concern is it doesn't look like it's real dangerous but the top of a tree or tree stump that may have been 15 feet underwater is now closer, and someone skiing can possibly impact objects that are closer than they used to be," he said.
According to the DNR, so far this year there have been 87 boating incidents, 10 boating incident-related fatalities and 32 total drownings on Georgia waters. Department deputies also have issued 146 citations for boating under the influence.
For boaters, DNR stresses extra caution as there are no lanes of travel and drivers should be aware of the rules regarding public waterways and traffic.
Barr made a connection between boats and motor vehicles:
"When you get to a four-way stop, and someone runs a stop sign and hits you, you're first gonna call 911 and complain about injuries. The operator is going to ask what intersection you're at and they're gonna dispatch an ambulance and literally be there in minutes.
"Take that same scenario and put it on the water. Add someone who doesn't boat regularly pulling a skier and looking back because they don't have a spotter and they hit another boat. Hopefully, someone can reach a cellphone and the same thing happens. The difference is there's no intersection. We hope the person can give direction of where they are located. The first hurdle [we cross] is where are they at on the lake, what county they're in and how far we are coming [from]. We have boats respond from a different location and it can be a very extended period of time to get personnel on the water."
Passengers on boats should wear life jackets. According to DNR, nine out of 10 drowning victims were not wearing safety jackets. Georgia law requires children under the age of 10 to wear life jackets while onboard a moving boat, unless the child is inside a fully enclosed cabin.
Boats are vehicles and drivers must obey the same laws as land motorists, including drinking and driving.
"We've had quite a few arrests this year [for boating under the influence]," Barr said. "If you're going to have alcohol, make sure to have a sober operator [on the boat]."
Along with boating under the influence, navigation lights are required at night just as headlights are on roadways. DNR advises not to wait until after sunset to turn on lights and determine if they function properly.
"There are increased problems when people navigate at night," Barr said. "In lower water conditions, if someone jumps off the side of a boat in a channel [roadway] and a passing boat can't see what needs to be seen, it could be a serious situation."
As summer temperatures begin to wind down, Labor Day presents the last main weekend to don the bathing suits and jump in the water. As enticing as it sounds, DNR advises extra caution when diving.
"If you don't know the full pool of the lake, ease your way into the water and utilize those areas that you know are deeper," Barr said. "Even that can't be 100 percent. There can always be floating objects, trees, debris that has gotten pushed in the water, other equipment that has been abandoned and sunk, a boat at a dock that has come loose ... it's always a good idea to be cautious and feel around the area you're swimming in."
"No diving" signs are posted in areas that are deemed unsafe for headfirst diving. If the depth of the water is unknown, enter the water feet first to avoid possibly serious injury.
Buddy systems are encouraged while swimming as well as knowing one's limits.
"Always have a partner with you," Barr said. "That way, if you get in trouble, you've got someone to help you. In most drowning situations, you have to help yourself, but it's good to have someone there in case something happens."
Along with boating under the influence, swimming while intoxicated is frowned upon.
"We've had drownings related to alcohol [in the state], and when highly intoxicated, it's easy to lose inhibitions and think they can swim when they can't," Barr said.
He said rangers will be on the water every day, and if someone needs assistance, or witnesses a drunk boater or an unsafe act, rangers can be reached at 1-800-241-4113.
For more information on boating safety, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com or call a DNR Law Enforcement office: Northwest Georgia 770-769-9680; Northeast Georgia 770-535-5499; Central East Georgia 706-595-4211; Central West Georgia 478-751-6415; South Central Georgia 912-685-2145; Southwest Georgia 229-430-4252; Coastal Georgia 912-264-7237.