Be safe when boating in Spring

Written on 04/13/2024
Bud Fields, Outdoors with Bud

Water levels vary in March and April, hiding hazards

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The Spring fishing and boating season is drawing near, and I know many of my boating friends are extremely impatient to launch their boats and begin fishing and boating. What many of them realize, especially during the Spring, is that water levels can, and will, fluctuate on depth. That is mainly due to the weather conditions being unstable. It can be nice and sunny today, and then tomorrow it can produce thunderstorms and a huge amount of rain, raising the water level.

I recall several instances when I was fishing a bass tournament in late March and April on reservoirs, and the water level was possibly 10 feet above normal. Not only did that make fishing difficult; it also made it dangerous!

Imagine traveling across the water at speeds of 50 m.p.h. or higher. The water level being high will cause floating debris, and if the boater is not skilled in boat operation, they could hit a floating tree or a submerged tree stump, causing severe damage to the boat or the lower unit of the outboard motor, or even eject the occupants of the boat.

Of course, if the boat operator is skilled and smart, they will adjust boat operation to the current conditions. I have had the experience of being paired with what I refer to as a “jet jockey,” and his main concern was to get to his fishing spot fast and first. More than once I tried to “apply the brakes” and hung on for dear life until we arrived at the destination. I admit I was happy to be alive.

More than once, I rode in a boat at what I considered an unsafe speed. There were some pretty good-sized trees floating, and it was hard to see them until we were almost close enough to touch them. The boat operator turned the steering wheel sharply to the left, then to the right, trying to avoid hitting the tree. I had a firm grip on the handrail, and I was certainly glad I had my fishing tackle strapped down or it would have blown out of the boat.

When I am in control of the boat, I feel much better. I guess throughout my 70-plus years of fishing and boating, I have become educated on many of the hazards. My bass boat was fully capable of speeds in the high 60s to low 70s, and I confess it was fun being able to do that. But I learned, just like driving my road vehicles, to adjust my boat operation to the current conditions. I hardly ever operated my boat above 50 m.p.h.

I have witnessed a few of my friends actually tear the lower unit off their outboard motor. That was a very expensive repair bill.  I have seen boaters hit something and actually get thrown into the console or practically get ejected out of the boat. Trust me, that is a jolt.

I once was thrown forward and suffered a cut on the side of my forehead. It wasn’t too bad, but being a facial cut, it bled and appeared worse. In case you didn’t know it, boats do not have brakes, nor do they have seat belts. Would you drive your car down the road without any brakes?

It is state law that anytime the outboard motor is running, you must be wearing your life preserver. You also need to have a operational kill switch on your boat, with the lanyard connected to your life preserver.

The kill switch is a safety device that, in the event you are ejected from the boat, it automatically shuts off the outboard motor. This is a must, and I have witnessed how effective the kill switch is. Older outboard motors and boats not having a kill switch is extremely dangerous.

Many times, when the boater is ejected, the steering wheel turns, and without the kill switch, it continues to run. The boat will go around in circles, and it can actually hit the driver or the ejected person. I have seen boaters who suffered severe cuts from the propeller, so make sure you have a kill switch and that it is operational. Connect the lanyard to the “D” ring on your life jacket.

Boating and fishing can be so much fun and enjoyable if you do it safely. You need to attend a boater safety education course. Wear your life preserver anytime the outboard motor is running and be observant and adjust your boating to current conditions.