`Long, hot summer' keeps water patrols busy

September 2011 News

This summer Northeast Georgia experienced record high temperatures and severe drought conditions, bringing millions of visitors to Lake Lanier.

Sgt. Johnny Johnson of the Department of Natural Resources in Gainesville said about 8 million people visited the lake throughout the summer.

"Of course it's been a long, hot summer and we find that usually when you're in a hot, hot summer like we have been more and more people come to the lake," Johnson said.

DNR boat patrols mainly focus on weekends, but Johnson said patrols could be out on weekdays depending on the need.

"We don't work shifts," he said. "We patrol as needed and we just play it by how the boat traffic is looking, whether it's heavy or light or whatever."

Not everything was fun and games, however, as the DNR charged 29 boaters with BUIs since Memorial Day weekend.

Similar to a traffic stop, DNR Boat Patrols must have a reason to stop a boat, Johnson said.

"Maybe the registration's not right or it's at night, maybe the boat doesn't have the proper lights or no lights," he said. "Typically there's a reason why we stop a boat."

When a boat is stopped, DNR officers conduct a safety inspection to ensure all passengers have a life jacket of the right size, a fire extinguisher is onboard and that the boat is registered.

"While this inspection is going on that's when the officers are determining if an operator is impaired, especially if they've detected an odor of alcohol through the inspections, how that person is reacting, if they're able to get what you're asking them for, can they remember what you're asking for and those sort of things," Johnson said.

While a BUI has no impact on a person's driving record, Johnson said many judges will sentence violators to the same penalties as a DUI.

Read more at http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/section/6/article/55523/

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