To get a license to drive, people have to prove they know the rules of the road, but boaters sometimes learn the rules of the water the hard way.
Boaters dont need a license, and if they dont know the dos and donts of safe operation this Independence Day, they might find themselves being educated by a Department of Natural Resources ranger.
Ranger 1st Class Tim Butler, who patrols Lake Tobesofkee, said one of the most common problems he sees is boaters violating the 100-foot rule. It states that boats, including jet skis, must travel at idle speed within 100 feet of a dock, anchored boat or swimmer.
But the biggest danger, he said, is drunk boaters. Its not something he sees commonly at the lake, but they do occasionally charge people with boating under the influence, and the fines are about the same as a DUI.
The legal threshold for boaters is a blood alcohol level of .10. Gov. Nathan Deal has suggested lowering it to .08 to make it the same as for driving. Butler declined to offer an opinion on whether that should be done, but he did say the best policy for anyone operating a boat is to avoid drinking altogether.
In 2011, 168 boating under the influence citations were issued in Georgia, according to the DNR.
Overall, Butler said, boaters he sees operate within the rules.
Most of the people that we contact here on Tobesofkee seem to be abiding by the law and trying to be safe, he said. Most people are out just trying to have fun and obey the law.
While the law requires life jackets only for children under 10, a boat must have a life jacket on board for everyone in the boat. Thats a common violation he sees. DNR recommends that everyone wear a life jacket on the water.
Another common and particularly dangerous violation is boaters operating at night without lights on.
Bill Fendt, 69, of Macon, said he has been boating since he was 10 years old.
He and his wife, Courtney, were pulling their large pontoon boat out of Tobesofkee on Saturday.
He used to see a big problem on the lake with young people on jet skis who would operate too close to his boat, but he said the rangers have cracked down on that.
For a small lake, I would say this lake is extremely safe, Fendt said. Ninety-nine percent of the people out here are nice and will stop and help you if you break down.
Butler said those new to boating are sometimes a problem because they dont know the rules. He recommends both new and experienced boaters take DNRs boating safety class.
Boaters can find out more by visiting www.goboatgeorgia.com. An online manual on boating safety can also be found there.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.