Barr said, “My biggest concentration while I am on patrol is on safety first. Life jackets and properly working navigational lights are essential on the lake and I watch to make sure those are being upheld. The next area we focus on is education. Everyone we speak to gets a boater safety booklet, and we inform them of the laws and general best practices to remain safe. The third focus we maintain is watching for impaired operators. Motor skills are greatly affected by alcohol and drugs and they make a deadly combination on the lake.”
His words rang true just after the fireworks ended and most boats were making their way back to shore, a call came in at 11:30 p.m. regarding a boat crash.
According to an incident report, “DNR agents were called to the mouth of Illinois Creek at Allatoona Lake in Bartow County. They found a Maxum cabin cruiser with five injured people, including a 4-month-old child. DNR immediately transported them to the nearest boat ramp for medical attention. The injuries were non-life threatening and all parties were taken to Cartersville Medical Center.
“Witnesses stated that a Chaparral ski boat over took the Maxum cabin cruiser from behind. Allegedly, the ski boat hit the cabin cruiser from the rear and went up and over the boat causing significant damage to the vessel. The operator of the cabin cruiser sustained the most injuries. There was only one minor injury to the four people in the Chaparral vessel. The operator of the ski boat was found to be impaired and arrested for boating under the influence.”
Barr said, “It was absolutely unimaginable how no one was killed in the course of the crash. A male was operating the cabin cruiser, while the mother of the child sat in the seat across from him. She was holding the 4-month-old in her arms as the boat came up and over the vessel. Luckily, only minor injuries were sustained. That is just another example of why boating and alcohol are a tragedy waiting to happen.”
The Army Corps of Engineers estimates the 12,000-acre lake, including the surrounding beach area and parks, is the busiest in the nation with more than 6.125 million visitors in a three-month period.
“Most people correctly navigate the waters, but in the cases when we have a situation it is usually because of lack of knowledge,” Barr said. “We strongly encourage anyone and everyone who operates a boat or a personal water craft — sometimes commonly known as a jet ski — to complete a boater safety class. The legislative branch of Georgia just passed a new law that anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, must complete the course before operating a boat or P.W.C. on Georgia’s waterways. However, we encourage everyone, not just the younger boaters, to participate in the class.”
The course is offered locally on Saturdays for $25. The eight-hour class covers topics, including proper navigation and use of lights, hypothermia, what to do during storms, how to operate in darkness and how to properly navigate the waterways.
He recently participated in the 69th body recovery of his 20-year career.
“Every body recovery impacts me greatly, but you never forget it when it’s children. Non-swimmers, mediocre swimmers and good swimmers drown, and I know it’s true because I have recovered their bodies. Life jackets are vital to lake safety. People underestimate their swimming ability and sometimes unexpected things happen. It is best to use preventative measures and wear a life jacket.
“Another situation I encountered in 2004 could have been prevented had the proper navigational lights been used. Two young teens set out on a paddle boat after dark. They had no lights whatsoever on the craft. A bass fisherman who was traveling at a high rate of speed from one fishing spot to another did not see the boat. His boat hit the paddle boat and went through it. The fisherman remarked he thought he hit styrofoam at first. Both boys died; one from severe injuries and the other drowned. If they had just had something as simple as a lighter, the fisherman might have seen them. Stories like these are why we tell as many people as possible to please learn the proper rules to boat navigation.”
For more information on boating or the boater safety course, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com or www.boaterexamine.com