Each year as I roam Presque Isle and its nearby waterways, I watch as inexperienced boaters head out onto Presque Isle Bay, Marina Lake and into the lagoons in all manner of small boats, canoes or kayaks. This, frankly, sometimes scares me to no end.
I have even seen many inexperienced boaters heading out the channel into Lake Erie in 12 to 14-foot boats with four people aboard to do a little perch fishing. No, it doesn’t require a 40-foot cabin cruiser to enjoy Presque Isle and Presque Isle Bay waters, but those operating small boats, canoes and kayaks here need to be aware of their craft’s limitations and their own boating skill levels and behave accordingly. It is a fact that more than 80% of all boating fatalities occur in boats less than 24 feet in length.
I know from experience that any fast or jerky movements could rock the hull, and someone can easily fall overboard. Now, I am not one to try to limit someone’s enjoyment of Presque Isle and boating. However, I do think more people need to know some elementary safety rules before they venture out onto the waters. Remember, a small watercraft can easily be washed over by a large wave and quickly fill with water, because the distance between the water and the top edge of the craft is very small. This is especially true if the craft is loaded with people and gear.
The first element that people should consider when they get into a boat under 18 feet in length is that small boats are confined areas. There is no room for horseplay in any boat, let alone a small one. Any gear such as coolers and tackle boxes should be kept where they can easily be reached. The amount of gear brought aboard should also be limited for safety reasons. There are four items that must be aboard the small boat. They are a life vest for each person aboard, at least one floatation cushion, a life ring and lastly, an anchor to hold your boat in place until help can come. That life jacket should be worn, not just thrown in a corner.
The people riding in the boat should be seated so their weight is distributed evenly to prevent the boat from listing dangerously in any one direction. It is also a good idea to keep the anchor line coiled neatly so that it cannot get tangled in anyone’s feet. If your boat has an outboard motor, someone on board should be familiar with the operational procedures and the safety rules of having gasoline aboard a small boat. Remember, gasoline is explosive, so treat it with respect.
I firmly believe that learning the rules, regulations and safety facets of operating a boat is not a do-it-yourself activity. To be safe, you need someone with experience onboard with you on your first few trips out onto the water. Standing for any reason in small boats, even changing seating positions, can raise the center of gravity and make the boat less stable. This raised center of gravity means that a wave, chop, boat wake or sudden turn can result in a person falling overboard.
Especially in Erie, you have a few extra safety items to consider. Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay can and do get rough. Waves on the lake can get to ten feet, and the bay has seen three-foot waves. In addition, even on calm day, waves from other larger boats can produce chop (swells and waves from other boats) of three to four feet in height. This chop is many times more dangerous than the normal lake or bay waves. They are random and unpredictable. Small boats can capsize or fill with water easily in the chop and wave combination in and near the channel entrance. I have seen this happen each and every summer.
I love boating; because, I have learned over the 50 years I have owned a boat, that there are many days the boats, small and large, belong tied to the pier. Weather on Lake Erie can change quickly. If you are not experienced with the weather here and with how to handle a boat in bad weather, stay in the shelter of Presque Isle Bay, or just enjoy the safe calm of Marina Lake or Misery Bay.
If you are using an outboard motor on your boat, remember that operating such a motor is serious business. Even the smallest motor has a propeller which turns at high speeds and can be deadly. Going fast can be fun, but turning too fast under power can capsize a small boat very easily. Hitting a submerged log at high speed is, likewise, a distinct possibility. This can also capsize the boat or maybe just cause a quick stop and throw someone out of the boat. For these and many other reasons, you need to get some experience with someone aboard who knows boating. The Coast Guard and The Pennsylvania Fish and Boating Commission have booklets and courses available on safe boating operation. You should make sure you get and review their content, BEFORE you take to the water.
In the next part, I will review special items of interest to people who might use a canoe or kayak. I will also give you some small hints on how to improve your enjoyment of your time on our Presque Isle and Lake Erie waters.
See you on the park!!
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