As temperatures rise this summer, many people are headed to Lake Lanier to take a dip and cool off. However, as drowning incidents in Georgia waters rise with the heat, authorities are urging caution and offering vital tips.

This Fourth of July weekend, there are expected to be thousands of boats on the water, and law enforcement officials will be stepping up their efforts.

“It’ll be extremely busy,” said Georgia Department of Natural Resources Game Warden Jason Roberson. “There’s five firework shows here on the water this weekend. And each of those shows can have upwards of 5 to 6,000 boats per show. So it’ll be a very congested place, there’ll be a lot of partying, a lot of drinking a lot of dangerous behavior going on.”

The DNR Law Enforcement Division plans to have a strong presence at Lake Lanier each day of the holiday weekend, Roberson said — staff will be working from midday to the early hours of the morning. The Gwinnett Police Department is also partnering with the DNR so more patrol boats can be active.

ExploreOfficials stepping up summer patrols on Georgia’s waterways

“The biggest challenge is probably just the sheer volume of people — and, I would say, inexperienced boaters,” Roberson said. “We want people to come here and have a good time, but when you’re getting congested waters, mix all the excitement of the day in, it can certainly be an interesting place.”

What to remember on the water this summer

Combined ShapeCaption
DNR Game Warden Jason Roberson, right, conducts a safety check with Sea-Doo watercraft owner Robert Richard on Lake Lanier Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Georgia. DNR prepares for a busy Holliday weekend on Lake Lanier. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

DNR Game Warden Jason Roberson, right, conducts a safety check with Sea-Doo watercraft owner Robert Richard on Lake Lanier Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Georgia. DNR prepares for a busy Holliday weekend on Lake Lanier. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
DNR Game Warden Jason Roberson, right, conducts a safety check with Sea-Doo watercraft owner Robert Richard on Lake Lanier Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Georgia. DNR prepares for a busy Holliday weekend on Lake Lanier. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

While the DNR wants boaters and swimmers to enjoy this weekend’s festivities and have fun with their families and friends all summer long, they also strongly urge visitors to keep a few important tips in mind.

“We want them to remember a few things,” Roberson said. “Wear a life jacket, have a designated driver, drink responsibly and make sure that they know the rules for safe boating.”

Many drownings take place in the waters of Lake Lanier each year, especially during the warmer months. Of those drownings, Roberson said, one thing often stands out.

“The commonality is that none of these people were wearing life jackets,” he said. “That’s pretty much the only common denominator to these drownings.”

Under Georgia law, it is required for children under 13 to wear a life jacket when they are on a moving water vessel, including boats, personal watercraft, canoes and kayaks. Vessels are also required to have enough life jackets on board for each passenger, including people over 13.

“We enforce that law very strictly,” Roberson said. “We want to make sure that parents understand the responsibility they have to keep their children safe. And if they’re not willing to do it, we’re willing to help them learn that lesson.”

Alcohol and drug consumption also can play a role in the severity of boating incidents, including drownings. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the use of alcohol is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities. It is illegal in every state to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Before the start of the holiday weekend, there had been 142 boating under the influence incidents and 31 drownings in Georgia — 47 BUIs and two drownings were at Lake Lanier, according to the DNR.

What to do if someone starts drowning

The warning signs of drowning can be silent, and the unthinkable could happen in a matter of seconds.

“You could be in very shallow water, standing waist-deep, take two steps and the lake be 40 feet deep,” Roberson said. “If you’re a marginal swimmer or get caught in a wave, get cramps, whatever, it makes it very difficult to overcome that.”

There are no lifeguards on duty at Lake Lanier’s 20 designated swim areas, meaning that it is vital to follow water-safety guidance as closely as possible.

On top of wearing a life jacket while in the water, the American Red Cross says that parents should keep close watch over their children at all times, and it is important to ensure that each member of one’s family has basic swimming skills. However, basic water safety tips apply to everyone, not just children — everyone should look out for everyone while in the water, experts say.

The signs that someone is drowning include: They are not making forward progress in the water, are vertical in the water but unable to move or tread water, and are motionless and face down in the water, according to the Red Cross.

“There’s universal steps for drowning would be: reach, throw, row and go,” Roberson said. “So you’re gonna ‘reach’ for them with something, ‘throw’ something to them, ‘row’ would go get help or go to them with a boat, and then the ‘go’ is go get help.”

Roberson says it is not advised to attempt to swim in the water to retrieve someone who is drowning.

“A lot of times drowning victims are panicking,” he said. “If you’re not a trained lifeguard and know what to do, they end up drowning the rescuers.”

Drowning is a preventable tragedy, and ahead of the hectic weekend, Roberson and other DNR law enforcement personnel want people to remember that safety and prevention are key.

“There’ll be a lot of partying, a lot of drinking, a lot of dangerous behavior going on, and that’s what we’re here to try to curb,” he said. “We want people to come to the lake. We want them to have a good time.”


Drowning reported at Lanier

A 48-year-old man was the first drowning victim of the Fourth of July weekend on Saturday evening, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The man, identified as 48-year-old Frantz Joseph Scutt of Gainesville, had been in the water at a home on Little River on Lake Lanier in Hall County, according to a news release. DNR game wardens responded around 7:30 p.m. He had been pulled out of the water by bystanders and was taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, where he was pronounced dead.

No other drownings have been reported so far this holiday weekend, according to the DNR on Sunday afternoon. But there have been 11 people charged with boating under the influence since Saturday.

- Rosana Hughes