by Mike Gerry
As we approach the busy time of year that loads the lakes up with pleasure boaters, jet skis, kayaks, fisherman and others, it’s time to revisit some of the common practices of safety.
It’s hard to believe that a lake of 69,000 acres can get so busy that it presents a safety issue, but it does, and understanding how to maneuver the lake and how to pass each other can make you a lot safer when out enjoying the water.
The first safety measure, and most important, is wearing a life jacket. As someone who was in a boat accident, and had a life jacket save my life, I can attest to how important it is. When the motor is on, put your life jacket on. If you have a child of eight years of age or younger in Alabama the law requires they wear a life jacket while in the boat – at all times.
Often, while out on the main channel, I get questions from my clients as to what the red and green buoys mean. It’s simple – they mark the deep water paths that you can navigate safely without the chance of hitting a shallow part of the lake.
You must stay between them. It’s that simple – unless you’re familiar with the lake, stay in between the markers while running.
The most common mistake is how to navigate on-coming boats. The navigation rules are very simple when approaching an on-coming boat – keep them on your left; it’s referred to as “passing port to port.” If you do this, your ability to safely get around on-coming boats is simple and safe. The tough maneuver is how to cross perpendicular boat traffic.
Who has the right-of-way? Just because you’re in a main part of the channel does not mean you are in the right-of-way. This explanation requires some detail of port and starboard side rules. The easiest way is to assume nothing. Slow down! Be cautious, and if you’re not sure give up the right-of-way; it’s a little safer that way. Most people, without training, have no idea how to determine the right-of-way in this situation and there’s no need to get in an accident just to prove your right-of-way!
Lastly, be aware, alert, and never take your eyes off the water. There are too many boats and too much traffic to not pay attention.