Coast Guard: Lake boaters need to be extra cautious as water level sinks

Boating safety with low water levels

Lot of boats are beached for the time-being, and a lot of docks are high and dry. Mini islands seem to pop up overnight, too, as water levels get lower and lower. (WRDW-TV / June 13, 2012)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, June 13, 2012

THURMOND LAKE -- The lake is a little different than it was last summer. On Wednesday morning, News 12 took a boat ride with U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 21 to find out why.

"When you're out there boating, you're out there jet-skiing, or you're out there just water skiing, places that were safe a year ago are no longer safe," said James McMenamin with the Coast Guard.

McMenamin points out the changes. What used to be a pass between two islands is now a land bridge. A roped off swimming area is all dried up now. Lot of boats are beached for the time-being, and a lot of docks are high and dry. Mini islands seem to pop up overnight, too, as water levels get lower and lower.

"It's down 9 feet, and what that really means is the water's gone down 9 feet, but I like to think of it as the bottom has gotten 9 feet closer to the surface," McMenamin said.

McMenamin says the water level could drop off another 3 feet or more before the Fourth of July. That's why his flotilla is preaching safety.

"What you need to look for is not only where the islands are, but you need to look for the discoloration in the water," McMenamin said. "You can be in 20 feet of water and move just a little forward or sideways, and all of a sudden, you're in 3 or 4 feet of water."

He says even boaters who aren't zooming through the water are at risk, too.

"Ten miles an hour to zero -- that's a big shock. Big shock. And a lot of boats will run a whole lot faster than that, and of course, that's a bigger shock," he said.

Right now, McMenamin just has his fingers crossed for more rain.

"Ten more rain days like we had, and we may get a foot or two out of it into the lake," he said.

The Coast Guard will be holding some boater safety classes. The first will be on Fort Gordon this Saturday, and it's open to everyone. The next will be on June 23 at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Aiken. Registration is required. To register, call (706) 868-6847. There is a fee for the class.


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