Boating experts urge safety amid fun on the water

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comJune 2, 2014 

— The message from boating safety experts this year isn’t much different than most. But, they say, it’s just as important as ever.

“At any given time, there could be law enforcement officers from seven different agencies patrolling Lake Wylie looking for any type of violation and conducting vessel safety checks,” said Sgt. Brent Mabry with York County’s Lake Enforcement Unit and Dive Team.

“We encourage everyone to come out and enjoy the lake, and return home safely.”

Memorial Day typically begins an unofficial boating season on Lake Wylie that runs through the end of the summer. Boaters use the lake all year, but the next few months will have more traffic – and more opportunities to run into trouble.

Enforcement officers and boating safety instructors say the key to avoiding problems is to plan ahead and make thoughtful choices on the water.

“The best advice is to be smart,” said Charles “Bo” Ibach, a longtime instructor with the Charlotte Power Squadron and former Lake Wylie Marine Commission member.

“Don’t drink and boat. No playing around on the water. These are heavy, high-powered motor vehicles that deserve respect. And make sure you have respect for your fellow boaters.”

There aren’t any new, major rules on the water this year. The old standby rules are always stressed, though: Boats need life jackets for everyone on board. Children need to wear them. Carry the required size fire extinguisher. Boats need a sound-producing device like a whistle or horn.

“This even pertains to kayaks and canoes and paddleboards,” Ibach said.

Anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988, needs to take a safe boating course before operating a boat of 10 horsepower or more in North Carolina. The rule doesn’t apply in South Carolina, but experts agree it’s best to take the course before going out on Lake Wylie since the state line crosses at unique angles throughout the lake.

“If you can’t comply, you need to know the boundary lines between the states, and most don’t,” Ibach said.

There are laws for boating, but often the key to safe boating comes down to suggestions from experts. Mabry promotes everyone, not just children, wear life jackets on board. He also discourages alcohol use by anyone on board, but especially the operator.

Something as simple as a colored paddle, Mabry said, can make the difference in coming home safely.

“We have seen that paddle craft using a bright color paddle such as yellow, orange or red are much easier to see than a black paddle,” he said.

There are certain recommendations specific to Lake Wylie. Scott Spivey with Lighthouse Marine Service believes another advantage to taking a class that he or Ibach offers is in knowing the lake.

“Be especially aware of the ‘No Wake Zones,’ particularly around the bridges, ramps, marinas and T-bones,” Spivey said. “No wake means no wake.”

One recent change is that Tailrace Marina near the U.S. National Whitewater Center and North Carolina officials have put new red and green markers indicating a channel close to the U.S. 74 bridge.

“Boaters need to stay between the red triangles and green squares,” Spivey said.

For rules and safety suggestions on the water, check out the following links:

• Lake Wylie Marine Commission: lakewyliemarinecommission.com

• South Carolina Department of Natural Resources: dnr.sc.gov/boating.html.

• North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission: ncwildlife.org/Boating.aspx.

• Charlotte Power Squadron: usps.org/localusps/charlotte.

• Lighthoue Marine Service: lmservice.org.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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