Summer boating season isn’t waiting until summer this year. But safety experts say they’re ready.
The unofficial launch to boating season generally comes with Memorial Day. But an almost nonexistent winter and warm temperatures earlier in 2012 already has traffic spiking on Lake Wylie.
“During this time of year we are seeing mostly fishermen with the weekend lake population beginning to grow, especially with the recent warm weather,” said Sgt. Brent Mabry with the York County Sheriff’s Office lake patrol.
Groups such as the Lake Wylie Marine Commission and law enforcement agencies along the lake gear up with boating season to help keep problems on the water from becoming collisions or even fatalities.
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A general concern for the summer season is human-powered boats and motorized ones sharing space.
Joe Stowe, executive director of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission, already had a call from a group of scullers in a cove saying motor boats were coming too close. Needing the calm waters of early morning and sitting low to the water, scullers crews are vulnerable in low light conditions.
“They’re having problems with people seeing them on the lake,” Stowe said.
The commission also is looking into how kayakers and paddle boarders share the lake with fishing boats, ski boats and personal watercraft. Along with its law enforcement partners, the commission wants to stay “ahead of the accidents” that could prove dangerous.
“They’re out in the middle of the lake with no good way to identify them, and you have speed boats coming at 30 and 40 miles an hour, and the two meet,” Stowe said.
Commissioner Terry Everhart also is a lake patrol officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Everhart isn’t interested in writing more tickets or even introducing more laws, but instead wants to see if the commission can find simpler approaches to sharing a public waterway.
“What I want is to make it safe for everybody,” he said. “I want to encourage everybody to come out and have a safe time.”
Of particular interest is the area on the northern reach of Lake Wylie between the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Tailrace Marina.
That area is used by paddlers who rent kayaks, but there also are blind turns and substantial motor boat traffic. The commission plans to contact rental spots there to see what instruction is being given to paddlers. Everhart hopes through educating the different types of boat users on the lake, his group can avoid a push toward sectioning off areas for specific uses through no wake zones or other methods.
“The lake’s still big enough and people are still considerate enough to where you can work something out,” he said.
Safety in officers
One issue that shouldn’t be of concern is the presence of law enforcement. Officers generally spend more time in the water during peak use seasons – warm weekends and all summer – but have at times had to stretch patrol hours in the past several years due to fewer available man hours.
Fishing tournaments are way up, and casual boating is revving toward the summer.
But so is law enforcement.
The agencies representing both states and all through counties surrounding Wylie have at least as many boats and officers as last year. In North Carolina, there’s one more shared position for use on Wylie and Mountain Island Lake.
“Right now there are two of us on the lake full-time, and we will be supplemented this summer with four school resource officers,” said Mabry, whose jurisdiction includes 44 percent of the bi-state lake.
Some law enforcement personnel recently attended an international boating safety conference, where they learned new techniques.
Other methods – always wearing life jackets, a sober driver – are older than the lake itself.
Everhart does hope to curb a trend toward wakesurfing, where riders are in close proximity to the props.
He also imagines that there will be more boaters heading to sandbars or other spots to anchor for the day, a trend common to high gas price years.
Yet he doesn’t see fewer boats in the lake’s forecast.
“There’s been a lot of folks out using the lake,” Everhart said.
Stowe hopes the issues he’s heard about can be resolved, and those plans will help boaters throughout the lake.
“It’s important that people know we’re having problems, and we are trying to deal with those problems,” he said.
As with neighboring county and state agencies, Mabry said the main goal isn’t writing tickets or dampening a day on the water.
“Our main objective this summer, as it has been in past years, is for everyone to enjoy the lake and return home safely at the end of the day,” he said.