Summer is finally here and for many of us, that means boating season is here as well.
With as many boaters as we have now in Ohio, you can bet that if the weather is nice, the area lakes will be crowded. If you are an avid boater, you are not alone. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that three million Ohioans go boating each year and that Ohio has over 450,000 watercraft registered. No wonder it seems so crowded on my favorite lake!
We are fortunate to live in an area of the state that offers plenty of lakes and waterways for the outdoor water enthusiast. The problem lies in that most of the area waterways are small in size and with the number of boats mentioned above, they can become quite crowded in the popular boating months of July and August. When you have that many boats on such small bodies of water, the potential for accidents increases. There has already been eleven boating fatalities this this year.
Summer time on the water is all about fun. Whether you are skiing, fishing, or just out for a cruise, we all must share the water together to make sure that each and every trip is a safe one. The number one rule of boating is to be courteous to each other. On a hot weekend, one of the worse things about taking the boat out on an area lake can be the long line to launch and load your boat. I have seen lines longer than an hour on bigger lakes like Alum Creek. That long of a delay on a hot afternoon can combine for a loss of patience and tempers can sometimes flare.
Most of the delays can be avoided if everyone would just follow some common sense rules and be courteous to others. The most intimidating part of launching a boat is the backing down the ramp. The only way to become good at backing a trailer is to practice and a Sunday afternoon in July on the ramp with twenty other boaters in line is not the time to do it. Spend some time at home or at a shopping center parking lot and practice your backing skills before heading to the lake on a crowded day.
The next common sense step is to get the boat ready for launch before you get to the ramp. There is usually plenty of time to get things ready while you are waiting for your turn to launch. There aren’t too many things that are more discourteous than to sit in your vehicle the whole time waiting to launch and then to spend ten minutes getting the boat ready while you are on the ramp. Get those needed things done ahead of time. Remove the tie downs, load your gear, go through your pre-launch checklist, and put in the drain plug before you start to back down the ramp.
If it’s your first time taking the boat out for the year, the ODNR recommends a checklist for the first outing of the year to include: Check the boat registration. Boat registrations are good for three years and expire on March 1. You need to display a valid tag before you put your boat on the water. The registration card or form needs to be carried onboard your boat. Inspect your life jackets. In addition to making sure you have a properly sized wearable life jacket for each passenger, check each life jacket for mildew, rot and tears in the material, seams and straps. Discard and replace any damaged life jackets.
Check flares and fire extinguishers. Buy new flares if their expiration dates have passed, and make sure the fire extinguisher is properly charged. Check the first-aid kit. Replace any supplies that were used last season or have passed the expiration date. Check fittings. Thru-hull fittings below the waterline should be tight; sea valves should operate freely. Make sure the boat plug is on board and in good condition. Check for winter damage. Inspect non-metallic thru-hulls; they get brittle with age and winter ice can crack or loosen them.
Look for hoses that have been forced off or split from freezing. Every spring, boats sink at the dock when these problems go undetected until the first heavy rain. Check the fuel system. Inspect fuel fittings and hoses; replace if cracked or showing other signs of stress. Check electronic gear. Get fresh batteries for portable electronic gear, radios, handheld GPS and flashlights. Inspect connections on lights and the horn and other equipment wired in to the boat. Inspect dock and anchor lines for chafing. Replace lines if signs of wear are present.
Check the boat trailer. Inspect trailer tires for wear and inflate properly. Check the trailer frame for rust spots; inspect the wheel bearings and re-pack if necessary. Test the trailer’s lights before towing. Trailer tags renew annually on your birthday, just like your car’s license tags. Check the oil. Creamy brown or gray engine or drive oil has water in it and a mechanic should find the source of the leak before you start the engine.
Once it is your turn to launch, back down the ramp as quickly and safely as you can. Start your boat once you are unhooked from the trailer and then back it off and tie the boat at a temporary docking site away from the ramp. Many boaters will tie up at the ramp while they are taking their time parking the vehicle. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to wait while you park your vehicle when you do this.
Of course, the whole launching procedure goes much smoother if there are two of you where you can share the duties of backing the vehicle and unloading the boat. If you ever want to learn how to launch a boat smoothly and efficiently, go watch the area ramp the next time there is a bass tournament going on. Those guys have the most experience and with two of them working together they can literally launch a boat in less than two minutes.
Once you are on the water and enjoying the day, the smartest decision you can make is to wear that life jacket especially when the motor is running. Nearly nine out of ten boating related drownings involved victims not wearing their life jacket. State law requires that you must have a coast guard approved jacket for each passenger in the boat, so why not use it? The law also requires that a jacket must be worn by those being towed on water skis and tubes, while riding personal watercraft, and those less than ten years of age on a boat smaller than eighteen feet.
Along with that jacket, the driver of the boat should have the kill switch attached as well, if the boat is equipped with one. Most boaters don’t realize that often times an unmanned moving watercraft will usually circle back once no one is at the wheel and will create a dangerous situation for the thrown boaters or others nearby. When driving the boat, be sure to use common sense and good judgment. Operator inattention and carelessness were the leading causes of accidents. Choosing not to wear a life jacket, boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and falling overboard are usually the leading reasons for fatalities.
Other common mistakes include not being aware of an approaching storm, excessive speed, overloading the watercraft with more weight or people than it can handle, passing an oncoming boat on the wrong side (the boat to your right always has the right of way), sudden direction changes without checking behind you, following too close to another boat, and attempting to jump another boat’s wake in a personal watercraft or on skis.
Most of my hobbies involve being on the water and I have hundreds of great memories from those experiences. Fortunately, all of those boating memories have been accident free. If you use your head and be courteous to others, you can create a lot of great boating memories as well.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!