Labor Day Boating Safety Reminders
Michael Hudson, conservation officer for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, patrols the Ohio River in front of Great American Ball Park this past June. (Lee McClellan photo)
The Labor Day weekend is the last hurrah of the boating season. Boaters, kayakers and canoeists will swarm waters all over Kentucky during the holiday weekend, squeezing the last bit of fun out of what many consider the last weekend of summer.
Boaters who plan to hit the water should keep in mind some important considerations before they launch their motor boat, canoe or kayak over the holiday weekend and the upcoming fall fishing season.
“There are more non-motorized boats, such as kayaks and canoes, on the water every day,” said Zac Campbell, boating education coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Their low profile makes them easy to overlook by motor boat operators.”
Sales of non-motorized boats, especially fishing kayaks, rose dramatically over the past decade as more people found their low cost, simplicity of operation and ease of transport appealing.
“A canoe or kayak has much less maneuverability to avoid danger than a motorized boat,” Campbell said. “Those using non-motorized boats should wear their lifejacket at all times while on the water.”
Campbell also recommends canoeing or kayaking in a group as wakes from motor boats can upset a canoe or kayak. “It is a good idea to bring a square, throwable personal floatation device to help friends in case of trouble,” Campbell said. “People in canoes and kayaks on our waters should stay close to shore and out of congested areas.”
Boater’s fatigue is another challenge for boat operators. The combination of sun, dehydration and the movement of the boat along with the concentration required to safely operate a boat takes its toll and can induce an almost trance-like state.
“Stabilizing yourself while driving the boat requires energy,” Campbell said. “The pounding your body takes while riding in a boat also drains energy.”
These stressors dull the senses and slow the reaction time of someone operating a boat.
“When you add consuming alcohol on top of these other factors, it makes for a potentially dangerous situation,” Campbell said. “Boater’s fatigue affects you without alcohol. Consuming alcohol makes it worse. Don’t consume alcohol if you plan to operate a boat.”
Navigational buoys often cause confusion for boat operators, especially inexperienced ones. “The red and green buoys mark the channel and keep boats from running aground in shallow areas,” Campbell said. “Buoys are the traffic signals on our waterways and guide operators in a safe manner.”
An easy to remember phrase, “red, right, returning,” helps boaters navigate these buoys correctly. When the boat is moving upstream on a river or up the lake (away from the dam) on a reservoir, keep the red navigation buoy on your right.
The reverse is true when the boat is moving downstream on a river or down the lake (toward the dam) on a reservoir. Keep the green navigation buoy on your right: “red, right, returning.”
“Other buoys must be obeyed as well,” Campbell said. “You may receive a citation for violating a no wake zone.”
Buoys with a diamond indicate a hazard or underwater obstruction while those with a crossed diamond mean the area is closed to boating. Buoys with a square relate non-regulatory information such as directions.
Boaters should double check their boats for the required safety equipment such as a U.S. Coast Guard approved lifejacket in good working order and readily available for all occupants of the vessel.
Persons under 12 years of age must wear their lifejacket at all times in the open portion of a boat that is underway. Boats operating on Kentucky waters must have a working fire extinguisher that is not expired located for immediate use and signaling devices such as a loud whistle or horn. All boats must also have a Type IV personal floatation device designed to be thrown such as a ring or a square that resembles a seat cushion.
Keep these things in mind before hitting the water over the Labor Day weekend and during fishing season this fall.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.