Here are boat safety tips to know before sailing this Memorial Day weekend

A boat involved in a single-craft accident in Turners Creek is towed past the public boat ramp. (Photo Courtesy of Adam Van Brimmer/Savannah Morning News)

Credit: Adam Van Brimmer/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Adam Van Brimmer/Savannah Morning News

A boat involved in a single-craft accident in Turners Creek is towed past the public boat ramp. (Photo Courtesy of Adam Van Brimmer/Savannah Morning News)

Savannah’s waterways and rivers provide a popular escape, especially for recreational boaters on holidays and weekends.

As Memorial Day approaches, the start of boat season on our coast, it’s important to remember that any trip on the water comes with a responsibility to use boating practices that ensure the safety of all passengers aboard ― a hard-won lesson last year when the season started with a fatal boat crash that claimed the lives of four members of one family.

Rise of Savannah boating accidents in 2022

Nearly 50% of boating accidents in Georgia are caused by collisions with another boat or an object, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. In 2022, Savannah saw a rise in boating accidents with three boating accidents — two of which were major collisions — that resulted in injuries and seven deaths.

On May 5, local businessman Joe Moore was killed when a boat he was aboard struck an unlit channel marker near the Savannah Yacht Club and he was hit in the head by an unknown object.

On May 28, five people died as a result of a two-boat collision on Wilmington River. Four of those five were members of the same family.

On June 5, two people were injured when a small powerboat traveling in Turners Creek struck the wooden fenders beneath the U.S. 80 bridge.

The Wilmington River and Turners Creek collisions have resulted in passengers being charged with boating under the influence (BUI).

Deppish Kirkland, a Savannah native who played a prominent role in the court case chronicled in the book and movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," drowned in a boating accident on Sept. 3.

Rules of the waterways

Mark Mckinnon, public affairs officer for DNR, said game wardens will be out in full force on Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer enforcing safe boating laws.

"They're not out there to ruin people's fun. They're really out there to make sure that everybody has a safe and fun summer out on the waterways," McKinnon said. "We want them to be able to enjoy all the beautiful natural resources and lakes and rivers that we have here in Georgia, but we want them to do it safely."

DNR provides a set of safety and operational regulations to ensure that Georgia boaters enjoy the water while remaining safe.

DNR and Marine Patrol responded to the single-boat crash on Sunday evening.

Credit: Adam Van Brimmer

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Credit: Adam Van Brimmer

One of DNR's most important rules is the 100-foot law, which requires all operators of all kinds of boats to slow to idle speed when they are within 100 feet of docks, piers, bridges, shorelines or people in the water. An important tip is paying attention to surroundings as distracted boating is as dire as distracted driving.

Georgia DNR also stresses having a device that you can throw in the water in case of emergency.

When it comes to the proper way to pass another boat, there are a specific set of rules:

  • When meeting another vessel, boat operators should pass on the right side unless the boats are far enough apart that they are not meeting head-on or close to head-on.
  • On narrow rivers and streams, boaters should stay as far right as possible and be careful when rounding bends and curves, and overtaking or passing other boats.
  • In a crossing situation, the boat on the right should hold its course and the boat on the left should slow down and cross behind the other boat.

The Georgia Boat Safety Act prohibits anyone from operating any boat, sailboat, personal watercraft, water skis, sailboard or similar device while intoxicated, which for boating is a blood alcohol content of .08, or about four drinks.

Authorities observe a "zero tolerance" policy as it pertains to boating under the influence. If an operator is found to be intoxicated, he or she will be cited. According to a Georgia DNR official, if an operator involved in an incident passes sobriety tests, the law prohibits him or her from being charged with BUI.

DNR also encourages the use of life jackets, especially for children.

"People need to remember to wear their life jackets, particularly kids 13 and under. The law requires them to be wearing it if they're in a boat or swimming. Please supervise your children. Don't take your eyes off of them. Don't assume somebody else is watching. It's very, very important that you do that."

Game Warden Quintin Reed talks with boaters to make sure they have enough life jackets and space on their boat during a safety inspection on the Bull River.

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

According to Georgia boating laws, anyone born before Jan. 1, 1998, may legally operate any boat or small vessel on Georgia state waters if they have a proper identification card, such as a driver's license or any other government-issued identification that contains a description of the person, a photograph, and the date of birth, on board. Those born before Jan. 1, 1998, and who are at least 16 years old must complete the state's boating education course before operating a vessel.

"The main thing is to be courteous and just follow and obey the rules and regulations on the water if you are boating. Those things can go a long way in making the difference between a day at the lake or river and a tragic day, and we don't want to see those tragic days happen."

Laura Nwogu is the quality of life reporter for Savannah Morning News. Contact her at Twitter: @lauranwogu_

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Ahead of Savannah’s Memorial Day weekend, here are boat safety tips to know before sailing


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