Boaters need to be Proactive

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

If the stars align and the creeks don’t rise, I should be on the lake fishing my first catfish tournament of the year. The temperatures aren’t supposed to be particularly warm but the predicted sunshine and light breeze should help make things bearable. True, I’m getting to the point where I don’t handle the cold very well, but with the water still chilly, it will still feel like sitting on top of an air conditioner. Regardless, my tackle is in reasonable shape, and I like my boat is ready to go. Usually, I have a safety inspection done each year as a matter of habit, but even more, it doesn’t hurt to have a trained eye take a look just to make sure. A problem could be found that I didn’t catch.

Sounds like I might be a bit paranoid, but over the years I’ve learned to respect the water, boats, and the enforcement people that try to keep everyone safe. Of course, not everyone sees it that way, especially when it comes to enforcement. When you’re on the water trying to have fun, nothing can spoil it any quicker than being stopped by the law for unsafe operation, wake violations,  or to see how well you hid your beer. Laws have a purpose, laws need to be followed, and quite often laws are ignored…like it or not.

Not many years ago, boaters might have had a legitimate gripe concerning enforcement. This was especially evident when charter skippers on Lake Erie began complaining about frequent stops by watercraft officers to do a safety inspection. These checks were inconvenient, time consuming, and irritating. To a charter skipper, time is money, and when running two charters a day to determine boat payments and profit, there isn’t any room for unnecessary delays. The law was changed, and the new natural resource officers are no longer permitted to do random safety checks. Of course, I don’t believe the Coast Guard has to follow these rules and stops on the Great Lakes still take place.

Today, from what I’ve seen, safety on our waters has been compromised a great deal. I’m not on the water as much as many, but from what I’ve seen in the last couple of years, it’s unnecessarily dangerous out there. Back in 1997, we were a Gold Medal awarded state park. At that time, there were between five and seven park rangers running around along with another four watercraft officers. Like it or not, people obeyed the laws for the most part because someone was keeping an eye them both on land and water. Today, Parks and Watercraft are combined. At St. Marys, there is one full-time officer working a 40 hour day shift and a second one who works nights between St. Marys and Lake Loramie. At Indian Lake, I believe there are two full-time officers, one covering the day shift and one the night shift. That’s not enough, and it doesn’t take long for people to realize it.

Last August, for example, I spent a few late night hours on Indian Lake during their three-day catfish tournament. Anyone who frequents Indian knows that the boating traffic can be horrendous, especially on weekends. Throw in a holiday and it’s ridiculous. During this time, I watched countless boaters with total disregard for the law. We were anchored along with other fishermen all using the appropriate anchor lights. Boats were on plane, some running full speed, while others were riding bow- up unable to see what was ahead of them. One or two put the hammer down and turned off their running lights so they couldn’t be seen. Back in the day, a watercraft officer with a radar would have taken care of that. St. Marys also has their share of problems because everyone knows that the chances of a patrol boat being out is highly unlikely.

Think about it for a second. There are bass boats and pleasure boats that can run highway speed limits. The new tritoons with big motors can pull skiers, tubers, and who knows what else. Some can run almost or as fast as anything on the water. Running highway speed is one thing, but running highway speed without highways is another, especially when most boaters have little knowledge or ignore the rules of the road. To many, law enforcement people can be a royal pain in the fanny, but I wonder what people would think if the Highway Patrol no longer policed the Interstate? A few would be flip and say good riddance, but most would be scared stiff to go on the road. There are times when our Ohio waterways aren’t very safe because of little or no enforcement on the water. Hopefully, nothing bad comes from it.

I’ll continue to go on the water whenever I get the chance but try to be more observant of my surroundings. At night, I also plan to have a couple of high-intensity flashlights available to let unsuspecting boaters know I’m around, in addition to my running lights. It also might not be a bad idea to wear a PFD whenever you’re running. Sometimes I don’t. That just might change.