Boaters Need to Focus on Safety

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

It stands to reason that the closer we get to the prime boating season, the greater the potential for boating accidents. It’s also safe to say that the majority of boating accidents that occur never should have happened. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol is the leading contributor of boating accidents. Along with that, operator inattention, inexperience, improper lookouts, and excessive speed add to the problem. The Coast Guard also determined that 77% of those involved in serious accidents had no safety instruction. Today, boating is big business, and related technology continues to advance pushing watercraft of all designs to the limits.

Power and speed are the rule rather than the exception. Fishing boats that were once rowed or powered with small outboard motors have been replaced with carefully designed fishing platforms powered by 300 horse powered outboards that fly across the water at 70 miles an hour. Personal watercraft zip all over the place often jumping wakes, irritating anchored fishermen, or spoiling a quiet evening under sail. The newest addition to the fleet are modern pontoon boats moving along at speeds that rival the classic runabouts. Once used primarily for sightseeing and partying, a modern pontoon might just as easily be pulling a water-skier or tuber. One thing for sure, in recent years the high-speed pontoon boat has become an issue. There seems to be more and more inconsiderate skippers who think that their high-dollar, tricked-out pontoon boat comes with special privileges. In this case, size doesn’t matter. The last I saw, size and speed of a watercraft doesn’t determine right-of-way.

Adding to the mix are all of the other watercraft powered by wind or the simple stroke of a paddle. Sailboats of various sizes glide across the water in good numbers on any day where there’s a steerable wind. Kayaks are becoming more common being used for touring, exercise, or fishing. Their low profile makes them easy to propel and also hard to see. Canoes create similar problems in an environment controlled by power boaters. However, all watercraft have the right to be on the water, like it or not. Consequently, rules and regulations are necessary to maintain order and insure that boaters get off the water alive and well. Along with formal restrictions, it is assumed that boaters will not only follow the rules but also use common sense and practice common courtesy.

In a perfect world, all boaters would focus on safety and practice proper boating etiquette. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Having a good time often becomes the priority, and sometimes that good time is at the expense of other boaters. When that happens, laws in place need to be enforced. There is no reason for fishermen to trespass by tying up to a private dock or boat lift. There is no reason for a jet ski to play chicken with an approaching watercraft. There is no reason for a pontoon boat to rip through anchored fishermen slinging empty beer cans as they pass.

When the Division of Watercraft and the Division of Parks combined, the presence of law enforcement on the water became less evident. It didn’t take boaters long to catch on, and those who paid little attention to the rules paid even less. Although their presence might not be as noticeable, the new Natural Resource officers will be looking for boating violations. Most of the new Natural Resource officers will be available for water patrol. All park officers can request to be cross-trained in water safety and enforcement. All new Natural Resource officers will be cross-trained. Also, with the consolidation of parks and watercraft, each district has its own responsibilities. Our officers no longer are responsible for policing Indian Lake which is in another district.

It would be wise if the idiots who think they won’t be caught running full speed after dark by turning their running lights off, changed their ways. This is especially true if more than one boater gets the same idea. It was once thought that boaters could drink a beer or two as long as they weren’t causing a problem and had it hidden. That’s not the case. Zero tolerance is the message I’m getting. Oh yes, just because your pontoon boat comes with headlights doesn’t mean you can use them while running. Having your headlights on will get you a ticket regardless of the speed. Use them for docking and for emergencies.

Thousands enjoy being on the water every year. All expect to have a good time and get home safely. Occasionally, that doesn’t happen. Hopefully none of us are the cause of spoiling someone’s day on the water. Focus on safety and have a good time.