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Lake Safety : Lessons from a Retired Coastie that will make your stay in North Georgia safer

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

As a retired Coastie with nearly 30 years of experience, I've witnessed firsthand the dangers that can lurk in seemingly calm waters. While lakes like Blue Ridge, Nottely and Chatuge may appear serene and peaceful, it's crucial not to let their beauty lull you into complacency.

US Coast Guard Station New York
Station New York

Not a Mountain Lake, but one of the Coast Guard Units I worked at

As you begin your journey to the mountains Sarah and I hope that you will consider staying at Misty Mountain Inn & Cottages. We believe our little slice of heaven is the perfect destination for those seeking a delightful blend of comfort and natural beauty whether staying in a cabin rental or in our Inn. We are located in close proximity to the picturesque lakes of Chatuge and Nottely & Lake Blue Ridge and the picturesque towns of Blairsville, Helen and Blue Ridge. Our charming bed and breakfast offers a serene and centrally located getaway for nature enthusiasts to base out of. With cozy cabin rentals or a full service bed and breakfast available, you can enjoy the tranquility of the surrounding mountains while indulging in the comforts of a home away from home. Just like the vast ocean, lakes can pose numerous hazards. In this blog, I'll share some important lake safety tips and highlight specific rules and law differences for boating on Lake Chatuge, which lies between two states. Additionally, I'll delve into kayak safety and the significance of labeling your kayak with contact information. Lastly, I'll introduce an app called ICO that can be a lifeline during emergencies on the water.

Understand the Hazards:

Many people underestimate the potential dangers that exist on lakes. It's important to recognize that even seemingly calm waters can quickly turn treacherous. Be aware of the following hazards:

  • Sudden weather changes: Lakes are susceptible to sudden storms that can produce high winds, lightning, and heavy rain.

  • Submerged hazards: Underwater rocks, logs, and other submerged objects can pose serious risks to boats and swimmers.

  • Changing water levels of lakes subject to flow control due to flood control/dams. Water levels can be checked at TVA. Also be wary of areas where there could be uncharted obstructions, like trees, rocks or sand bars.

  • Boating traffic: Lakes can become crowded with boats of all sizes. Stay vigilant and be mindful of other vessels' presence and movements.

Follow Boating Regulations:

When boating on our area lakes, it's essential to understand and adhere to the rules and regulations that may vary between the states it spans. Consult the respective boating authorities in each state to familiarize yourself with any specific requirements, such as boating licenses, registration, or speed limits. Stay up to date with the laws governing the waters you're navigating:

  • Personal Watercraft (PWC): In Georgia, jetski/PWC operators must be at least 16 years old and have a valid driver's license. In North Carolina, PWC operators must be at least 13 years old and have a valid driver's license or a PWC safety certificate. Here are just a few of the possible differences, but be sure to review each state's current laws and regulations as they can and do change.

  • Speed Limits: The speed limit on Lake Chatuge is 55 mph. However, there are some areas where the speed limit is lower, such as near swimming areas and docks. In Georgia, the speed limit is 45 mph in all areas of the lake. In North Carolina, the speed limit is 55 mph in most areas of the lake, but it is reduced to 25 mph near swimming areas and docks.

  • Alcohol: In Georgia, it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for boat operators is .08%. In North Carolina, the legal BAC limit for boat operators is .08%.

  • Life Jackets: In Georgia, all boaters and passengers under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket at all times while on the water. In North Carolina, all boaters and passengers must wear a life jacket at all times while on the water.

  • Get your vessel checked by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary! Yes, the Coast Guard has a presence on the North Georgia lakes by way of the volunteer arm of the Coast Guard. These men & women can answer questions about boating regulations and also possess extensive knowledge about the lakes.

  • Fishing Regulations: Fishing regulations vary between Georgia and North Carolina. For example, the minimum size limit for largemouth bass is 12 inches in Georgia, but it is 14 inches in North Carolina. You can expect to catch the following types of fish -

It is important to be aware of the specific rules and regulations that apply to the area of where you will be boating. You can find more information about boating rules and regulations on the websites of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Some Boating Safety Tips:

  • Plan a trip within your capabilities - know your limits and play within them. You don’t have to be an expert, but you must be a strong enough paddler to handle the return distance with ease. For sit-in kayaks, you should know how to do a wet exit and a self rescue.

  • Research local hazards and weather - Weather such as thunder storms and winds can make any adventure dangerous.

  • Create and share a float plan - Before embarking on your kayaking trip, let a trusted person know your destination and estimated return time. In case of any mishap, this information will be invaluable for search and rescue efforts. In today's digital age, there are several helpful tools to enhance safety on the water. One such app is ICO, available on Google Play and the Apple Store. ICO is designed to make emergency calls for help when you're unable to do so yourself. Additionally, it empowers your trusted contacts with critical life-saving information, including your location, in the event of an emergency. Consider downloading and utilizing this app to enhance your safety while enjoying lake activities.

  • Bring essential safety gear - plan and equip for worst case scenarios

  • Dress for immersion - lake water is chilly and it does not take long for hypothermia to set in.

  • Don’t go solo - the buddy system is the golden rule for water safety.

  • Label Your Kayak - Attach a durable label with your name and contact information to your kayak. This aids in recovery if you lose your kayak or if it gets separated from you during an accident. Here is a great checklist from REI!

While lakes like Nottely and Chatuge offer breathtaking beauty and recreational opportunities, it's crucial to respect the potential dangers they harbor. Never underestimate the power of nature, even in seemingly calm waters. Familiarize yourself with boating regulations specific to the lakes you're visiting, and always prioritize safety. Whether you're kayaking or boating, take necessary precautions and inform others of your plans. Stay safe and enjoy the beautiful lakes responsibly.

Note: any examples of laws or regulations should be checked and verified with the appropriate authorities.

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