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If you were to see Harry Hayes and his wife, Brenda, motoring toward you on Lake Lanier, or maybe even somewhere along the southeast Atlantic coast, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re operating a tugboat. In fact, the recreational vessels operated by the Hayeses and other enthusiasts are even called “tugboats,” because their silhouette resembles those maritime workhorses. 

But work is the farthest thing from recreational tugboaters’ minds, whether at the dock, at anchor in the middle of a lake, or plying a saltwater route. 

Prior to getting their tugboat, Hayes and Brenda spent time on kayaks in area lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. But they wanted something more, something that would allow for overnight water adventures. Harry had previous experience with sailboats, but the couple ultimately decided they wanted a motorized vessel they could trailer to the water.  

They first found their bliss with a used 21-foot Ranger tug, christened RedBird. Equipped with a 30-horsepower inboard diesel engine, RedBird included a small cabin, sleeping room for two people, a freshwater sink, single-burner stove, refrigerator and toilet. 

Since then, they’ve upgraded to a 27-foot Ranger dubbed Night Heron. It can comfortably accommodate six people for a day trip, with sleeping accommodation for four people for overnight trips. In addition to a galley with a two-burner stove with oven, a microwave, a refrigerator/freezer and hot and cold running water, Night Heron boasts a bathroom with lavatory and shower. 

The tugboat, propelled with a 300-horsepower engine, also offers heating and air conditioning, a TV and stereo system. Like RedBird, Night Heron can be towed on a trailer, and is an all-weather, year-round boat. 

The Hayeses’ tugboat adventures have thus far taken them to Lakes Russell, Chatuge, Hartwell and Lanier, and to an excursion along the South Carolina coast. RedBird was kept on the driveway of the Hayes home, but Night Heron is kept in in a Lake Lanier marina. 

At times, Hayes and his wife will drive to Flowery Branch to enjoy dinner and time on Night Heron at sunset without even taking her out onto the lake. When they have ventured out onto the lake, the couple often has “rafted up” with other boats, tying as many as three together to enjoy the company of other boaters. 

In Georgia, there aren’t any stringent requirements for operating a recreational tugboat, other than passing a boater safety course. And if you were born before 1998, the state doesn’t require even that. Hayes and his wife have, however, taken a boater safety course, since they will occasionally operate their boat in South Carolina and Florida, which require the course.   

Hayes points out that their boat can be trailered with their own vehicle and is just small enough not to require special permits involving “Wide Load” restrictions. He says this is an intentional design feature that manufacturers of this kind of boat use as a guideline in their models. 

And while it might seem intimidating to launch a boat as large as a recreational tugboat from a vehicle, Hayes says he hasn’t had a problem. It’s simply a matter of backing the boat down a ramp to the edge of the water and getting aboard the boat as his wife backs the trailer farther into the water. When the boat floats free, Hayes motors to a nearby dock where his wife and others can board. 

Maintaining a tugboat is similarly straightforward, akin to maintaining a car or recreational vehicle, Hayes continued. Oil has to be changed, antifreeze put into sinks and toilets when the boat is not in use, and the bottom of the boat has to be kept clean to ensure it moves smoothly and safely through the water. 

There really is no ballpark figure for getting into a recreational tugboat, Hayes explained. Age, condition, equipment and size are all factors, he said. He suggests that anyone interested in a recreational tugboat should search online to get an idea of what they’ll pay for the kind of boat they want. 

A quick online check revealed that recreational tugboats are available at prices in five and six figures. Most purchasers opt for a used boat, according to Hayes. 

Hayes went on to explain that learning how to operate a tugboat will depend on the specific vessel. “Each boat is different,” he said, “so you have to kind of get used to it, especially in learning how to dock it.” 

“I’m still in the process of learning how to handle our bigger boat,” he said. One issue, he explained, is learning how to handle the “thrusters” – small articulable motors at the front and back of the vessel designed to make docking easier. 

Like other special-interest communities, recreational tugboat owners have plenty of online resources to share stories and advice on their vessels. Among them are and Trailer Trawlers on Facebook.  

“The TugNuts community was a revelation,” Hayes said. “We learned that owners often hold ‘rendezvous’. These gatherings allow owners to form friendships and exchange stories about their adventures on the water. We have organized two of them on Lake Lanier.” 

Jim Thompson is a freelance journalist living in Athens. He worked for more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor at publications in Georgia and Florida before embarking on his freelance career 

Lake Lanier Olympic Park Still in Business

By Randy Hines

Just 45 minutes north of Athens sits Georgia’s largest lake, and possibly it’s most famous. In 1996, Lake Lanier became the site for the rowing and sprint canoe/kayak competitions for Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Games. Subsequently known as Lake Lanier Olympic Park, its timing tower is the last remaining venue from those games still used for its original purpose. 

In the decades since that experience, the park has continued to host a variety of regional, national and international events open to the public. Its seven-lane, 2,000-meter course sits directly in front of viewing stands, providing plenty of front-row seating at the Olympic Tower Plaza. The stands are accessible without dealing with steps by way of a paved walking trail; seating at the top of the concrete plaza stands on the same level as the main entrance; bringing your own chair is an option 

One of the most popular yearly happenings is the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.  Spectators will enjoy the decorated 10- and 20-person vessels as well as educational opportunities and international cuisine.  Mark your calendars now for this Lake Lanier highlight on Saturday, Sept. 7. 

However, along with the athletic events, you can experience entertainment and social activities at the park throughout the summer.  The next July fun event is the park’s annual Beach Bash, when more than 100 tons of sand are brought into the plaza for a tropical experience. Geared for all ages, the 5 to 9 p.m. July 12 date features live music, hula-hoop and limbo contests, and food trucks. 

The final of four Food Truck Fridays at the park takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 16.  It might be more appropriate to call the day Food Trucks Fridays as there are 16 to 18 food trucks along with live music, beer and wine tents, and retail vendors.  Admission is free. 

If you have been a visitor to the Lake Lanier Olympic Park in the past, you’ll be amazed and delighted to see the new $21.6 million Boathouse, just completed this spring.  Across the street from the competitive half of the complex (and connected with the safety of a no-step pedestrian tunnel), the three-story campus has stunning views of Lake Lanier  

Home of the Lanier Canoe Kayak Club and Lanier Rowing Club, the Boathouse is the center of canoe/kayak/rowing training where novices can learn to paddle or row during novice classes, join a team and train for competition or rent a vessel and enjoy an afternoon on the water. The club also hosts regattas and is a popular destination for winter and spring training for collegiate teams.  

Also on the Boathouse side of the park are picnic tables, a swimming beach, a fishing area, and boat docks and launches.  The new landscaped walking trails nearby have benches and artwork scattered along the path.  All restrooms are handicapped accessible.    

Officially named Lake Sidney Lanier, the 38,000-acre body of water was created in 1956 by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.  The park address is 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville.    

Randy Hines, Ph.D., is a retired professor emeritus, most recently at UNG Gainesville, and is copy editor for Boom.  

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