Lanier ‘captain’ wants to take wheel from BUI boaters

In the wake of Georgia’s new boater safety laws, a Suwanee man has launched a business aimed at taking in customers before authorities do.

Jeff Perfater specializes in rescuing impaired boaters, at least those who are smart enough to realize they may have had one too many.

For $125, Perfater, a U.S. Coast Guard certified master captain, will hop aboard his 10-foot inflatable Zodiac and rendezvous with any impaired boater on Lake Lanier. Once aboard, he will pilot the vessel back to its home launch and tie it off. No questions asked.

Perfater’s venture, SafeNav, began in May, about one year after the lake saw two separate tragedies that helped spark tougher boating laws across Georgia.

Two young brothers, Jake and Griffin Prince, were killed in a June 2012 collision with another boat operated by a man alleged to have been intoxicated. Less than a month later, Kyle Glover, the stepson of musician Usher, died when he was struck by a craft while in the water.

“There was a lot going on last year … and I had just come up on my [master captain] license but wasn’t sure how I was going to use it,” Perfater said. “I just said, ‘This is exactly what we need to do.’”

Stepped-up patrols and safety were on Kyla Iwinski’s mind two weekends ago when she and a group of friends held their annual boating day at Sunset Cove. The group’s host volunteered to be the designated driver, but when they saw the SafeNav business card at the boat rental office, they placed a call later in the day.

“He rode up on his little dinghy and we tied it off to the back of the pontoon boat and he drove us home,” said Iwinski, a former Atlantan now living in Marquette, Mich. “It was pretty perfect.”

SafeNav has two other Coast Guard certified captains and offers charter and vessel relocation service in addition to its “BUI Buster.”

On the water, Perfater can pilot anything from an 18-foot bowrider to a 120-foot houseboat. When he’s on dry land, he plays piano at Hal’s in Buckhead.

He’s kept busy since founding the business, handing out T-shirts, fliers and business cards at the marinas.

“I’ll be doing it again for Fourth of July,” he said. “I’ve got 400 T-shirts I had printed up.”

SafeNav is the first business of its kind at Lake Lanier. One of the reasons, Perfater said, is because once people find out what it costs to carry a $1 million liability policy, they drop out.

His certification entitles him to a more reasonable rate, he said.

“We’re not looking to make a big buck on this,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the accident quotient down on the lake.”

Don Parent, a Lake Lanier Islands certified master captain who also runs yachts along the East Coast, said he knows of no other service in the country like SafeNav.

“When you’re a professional mariner, it’s easy to spot people out there who are intoxicated,” he said. “It would be nice if everyone knew what Jeff is doing and it’s a very reasonable price when you consider it against what a BUI is going to cost you.”

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