August 31, 2020| Safety
By: Tom Flinn
By all accounts, in this summer of the pandemic, people all across America have taken to the waterways in huge numbers to safely escape quarantine. Lake Hopatcong, one of the most intensively used water bodies in the country, has experienced a noticeable increase in boating traffic since early in the spring of 2020. While in most years the upcoming Labor Day weekend would signal the boating season coming to an end, the likelihood is that boaters will remain active well into the fall.
With the expected increase in traffic on the holiday weekend, we thought this would be an opportune time to highlight some of the important rules (both legal and common sense) to keep safe as the lake becomes congested. This is not intended to be a comprehensive review of navigation rules; just a few reminders to help everyone enjoy their time on the lake.
There are no painted lines or ’ stop' or ‘yield' signs to help boaters know where to go or when to take or give the right-of-way. So we have Rules of Navigation to inform us where to go. They only work, however, if everybody knows and abides by them. Here are some critical rules when things get crowded on the lake.
Powerboats must stay clear of sailboats. That means maintaining a safe distance and crossing behind that sailing boat. Sometimes, sailboats will surprise you by tacking or gybing or changing course. Those maneuvers happen for a number of reasons, including obstructions in the way of the sailboat if it maintains its course, a wind shift of only a few degrees, or tactics employed while racing. So, some course changes can be anticipated and some not. Nevertheless, it is the obligation of the powerboat to stay clear and cross behind the sailboat.
Powerboats also must yield or give way to most every other vessel. Kayaks, rowboats, SUPs, and boats engaged in fishing are entitled to space and have powerboats pass behind, though such self-propelled vessels should try to maintain a steady course to allow powerboats the ability to give ample room to avoid them.
Each operator is responsible for the wake left by their vessel. Wakes can be dangerous and cause substantial injury and damage. The liability for damage or injury caused by your wake is the same as if you had crashed into someone or something. Your wake can be made more dangerous when combined with the wakes created by other boats. The Rules of Navigation require you to minimize your wake under the circumstances, not only to avoid injury or damage but the RISK of injury or damage.
Those who do their boating on Lake Hopatcong know that when the lake gets crowded the wakes will roil, creating a maelstrom. Under those circumstances, we urge boaters to be especially mindful of reducing their wake. Operating on plane becomes risky as the waves come at you from all directions making it impossible to "quarter" or otherwise account for them in controlling the boat. Some have a tendency in those circumstances, to reduce throttle, bringing the bow up and the stern down. Doing that just leaves an even bigger wake behind you making the situation worse for others. Safe boating, under those circumstances, calls for boats to minimize their wakes.
Have a safe and enjoyable time on the lake!
For more information on right-of-way rules, visit the Boat U.S. Foundation HERE.
Tom Flinn is a founding member of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation Board of Trustees and during his tenure has served as a liaison to the New Jersey State Police and the Morris County Sherrif's Office.