Safety first during summer boating season

There are more boats – big and small – on the water these days than ever, and owners of all types need to learn to co-exist. The smaller boat always has the right-of-way, and motor-boaters need to keep an eye out for paddlers and fishermen.

It’s mid-summer and boating in vessels of all sizes is at its zenith. As someone who spends quite a bit of time on the water, mostly paddling and fishing from a canoe or kayak, I’ve learned firsthand that safety awareness at all times is paramount.

That point was driven home to me recently when I was a witness to a pontoon boat/kayak collision near a small boat launch on a popular lake.

Some of my co-workers and I had arranged for an evening kayak paddle and I was on shore, talking with a friend while waiting for others to show up. A man and a boy had just taken off to go fishing in a kayak and were about 150 yards from the launch and maybe 100 feet from shore when a pontoon boat came into view and was headed in their direction.

Suddenly, the man in the kayak began yelling frantically and waving his arms in the air, but it was to no avail. The right side of the pontoon struck the front of the kayak, which flipped over. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and seconds later I was in my kayak paddling hard in their direction. I was relieved when I saw that the man and the boy, who were both wearing life vests, were OK.

I assisted in getting them back to shore safely and the pontoon boat driver responsibly stayed on the scene until all were ashore. He also came back after he’d parked the boat to discuss the matter with the kayakers. He said the sun was in his eyes and he just didn’t see them. He felt terrible.

My only question was why the boat driver didn’t alter his course so the sun wasn’t in his eyes. It’s not as if he had to keep it between any buoys or avoid any obstacles. In the end, no one was hurt. Some fishing poles and gear were lost and all involved, including me, were left feeling a little nervous.

The point I want to make is that there are more boats – big and small – on the water these days than ever, and owners of all types need to learn to co-exist. The smaller boat always has the right-of-way, and motor-boaters need to keep an eye out for paddlers and anglers.

Small boaters can help by doing what they can to be visible, avoiding areas where there is heavy boat traffic, and wearing their life vests. Like bicyclists on a busy highway, I don’t paddle out into the busiest lake on a Saturday afternoon just because I can. Common sense needs to prevail.

The above incident scared the heck out of me. I had a hard time getting to sleep that night because what kept going through my mind was the fact that if that big pontoon had struck the kayak a few feet further to the right, things could’ve been a lot different.

Fortunately, a little sleep and some fishing rods were all that was lost.

Categories: Dan Ladd

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