National Safe Boating Week

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

When I was growing up, I always wanted my own boat. Looking back, I really can’t remember why. I was around the water a lot, although most of that time was spent on the Miami-Erie Canal. When I went to the lake with my dad, we always rented a boat that would take us into the cattail marshes and back. Occasionally we wound up on the main lake, but since we rowed, it took a lot of effort to get anywhere, especially if there was a wind. On the plus side, I learned to handle a rowboat when I was nine and could handle some pretty snotty conditions by the time I turned 11. Boat rentals were relatively cheap as I recall. Some of the wooden rowboats we rented cost .25 cents for a couple of hours on the water. That included safety equipment consisting of a metal scoop to bail out any water that might leak in. High-end operations might also include a coffee can as backup. I never got that boat no matter how hard I tried to convince my dad we needed one. He had owned a couple including a double-pointed duck boat that he bragged about. I think that one, according to legend, met its end when a friend accidently blew a hole in the bottom when his shotgun accidentally discharged. Regardless, the one-liner I always got when I started talking boats was, “The happiest day of my life was when I got my first boat; the second happiest day was when I got rid of it.”  Looking back, there were safety issues, but they were seldom addressed. Our main concern was keeping the boat from sinking.

I never rode in a motor boat until I was 13 and when I did, I was introduced to the idea that it was a good to have a floatation device available. A floating cushion served the purpose and fulfilled limited safety requirements. A friend’s dad had a 14-foot StarCraft aluminum boat with a 25-horsepower outboard. It was quick. Two years later, he picked up an 18-footer with a 40-horsepower engine that gave him bragging rights as having the biggest and fastest boat on the lake. One of the challengers to this claim had a Lyman with a lapstrake hull. It was powered by twin 15 horsepower outboards. I guarantee it wasn’t as fast. For the record, I don’t think either boat went much over 25 miles an hour. Of course, as boating gained in popularity and common sense got trumped by easy credit, the demand for size and speed grew along with the number of boats on the water. Suddenly, at least in my world, safety became an issue. On a holiday weekend by the late 1970s, there might be two or three thousand boats on Lake St. Marys. Other major lakes had the same concentrations, especially if they provided large speed zones. This growth and the need for a safe boating environment brought about the Division of Watercraft, an organization designed to educate boaters and enforce safety rules. For the most part, it worked.

Today, pleasure boats can run at ridiculous speeds. Many bass boats fall in the same category. Some of the new pontoons are not only for partying but tricked out for speed as well. As a result of this speed, safety on the water becomes a bigger issue. The fact that some big money is being spent on various watercraft seems to make the owners feel entitled. Dropping $100,000 on a bass boat is now a distinct possibility, and that doesn’t include the matching truck to pull it. The same can be said for the very high-end pontoons. Put a pair of 350 horsepower outboards on the back of a pontoon and you’re talking $65,000 dollars. Include a platform big enough to carry this power and six figures plus isn’t unrealistic. Specialty boats also add to the equation. There’s nothing more exciting than being anchored on a lake after dark and hearing a jet boat ripping across the water without running lights. For the entitled, the rules don’t apply. Where’s the enforcement of the rules? For the most part, there isn’t very much.

National Safe Boating Week is designed to remind boaters to be responsible when they are on the water and to use some common sense. All boaters want to come back home in one piece after their time on the water. For the most part, boating can be a safe sport. On the other hand, when boaters police themselves, there will always be a few who could care less. That’s when people get hurt. So this year, although I don’t get on the water as frequent as most. I’m going to make a greater effort to watch out for the other guy. I’m also going to spend more time wearing my life jacket. And from what I found out last year, I’m adding a couple of high-intensity flashlights to my gear to remind the occasional boater who runs full throttle after dark that other boaters are on the water. Enough said.