Boating Safety Guidelines Should Be Taken Seriously

Special to the Valley News
Saturday, May 26, 2018

The boating season got off to a tragic start on May 5 when a 24-foot Boston Whaler struck a river buoy in the Piscataqua River in Newington, N.H. The buoy was not like the wooden markers we see on our Upper Valley lakes and rivers. It was a heavy steel structure as large as a four-door sedan.

Two lives were lost in the crash, a 7-year-old girls and a 56-year-old woman, according to media reports.

This horrible accident emphasizes the importance of boating safety.

With the arrival of summer weather, Twin State lakes, ponds and rivers will experience substantial traffic from anglers, water skiers, speed boats, pontoon cruisers and jet skiers. Throw in nonmotorized craft — sailboats, canoes, kayaks, rowboats, windsurfers and paddleboards — and almost any body of water can get crowded. Thousands of boaters from New Hampshire, Vermont and the surrounding states will take to the water between now and Labor Day.

Of course, some lakes will see more activity than others, but there are common sense suggestions that can be applied to all boaters.

First, know where you are. Learn and observe the Marine Patrol markers that indicate structures such as rocks beneath the surface of the water. Even at a low speed, hitting a pile of rocks can tear up the keel and ruin the propeller. High-speed collisions could prove fatal.

Markers also indicate shallow, sandy areas where a boat can run aground. Sometimes, such areas are not marked, so speeding over them can result in serious damage. There are also rules governing the operation of motorboats, including ski boats, near swimmers and shore.

Never speed when going under a bridge. Scraping a piling can be disastrous; crashing into one can be deadly. If you’re causing a wake near a bridge, you’re going too fast.

If you want to open up the throttle, find a deep section of the lake, preferably one with light traffic. Keep in mind that all lakes have prescribed speed limits, so if you go too fast, you could be in for a stop by the Marine Patrol. Always be aware of other boats and pass on the left at a safe distance.

Be courteous of nonmotorized craft which, by law, have the right of way on a lake, pond or river.

A conscientious pilot will always make sure that smaller crafts like canoes, rowboats and kayaks are not swamped in the wake of a powerboat.

As someone who usually fishes from a rowboat, I always watch the other traffic on the lake. I try to stay away from the motorboats, but once in a while a speeding hot dog will come too close, forcing me to ride out a series of rough waves in my 14-foot aluminum V-hull.

Boats operating between sunset and sunrise are required to have running lights. If you are out after dark, I suggest stationing someone with a spotlight in the bow to alert the pilot to structure or floating debris. When my father and I ran catfish lines at night in Florida, I would sit in the front of the boat with a flashlight to make sure we didn’t hit logs in the river.

When operating at any speed, life jackets are important. Although the law only requires that life jackets be on board, wearing them will save lives. Should anyone fall out or be thrown into the water, even if the person loses consciousness, the life jacket will keep them afloat.

Children should never be without their life jackets even if they are able to swim.

Also keep in mind that boats do not handle like cars. There are no brakes. The only way to slow a moving boat is to throttle down or put the motor into reverse. Should a quick stop be required, it will be easier at a lower velocity.

Any discussion of boating safety should address the question of consuming alcoholic beverages on the water. New Hampshire does not have an open container law concerning boats. However, it is illegal to pilot a boat if your blood alcohol level is above the legal limit. Keeping your wits about you on the water is important, so it is not a good idea to indulge in anything that might impair judgment.

Finally, in New Hampshire, anyone over the age of 16 who operates a motorized water craft equipped with a motor 25 horsepower or greater is required to complete a safe boating course or have a comparable certificate from another state. Boating rules and regulations are available online.

The boating laws are designed to insure maximum safety on the water. They are all to be taken seriously. Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the rules so make sure you’re up to date before you hit the water. It could save your life and the lives of your passengers.

Coleman Stokes can be reached at stokescoles@gmail.com.