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Got paddle? Make sure you know non-motorized boating safety


August 6, 2014  | View PDF

It’s the end of summer but boating season is still in full swing on Lake Stevens – and not only for motor boats. Lake Stevens’ non-motorized boating community is growing. Kayakers, canoers, rowers, sail boats and the newly added stand-up paddle boarders are using the lake in higher numbers. Boating safety is always a primary focus in the summer, but public safety efforts are usually aimed at motorized traffic. Granted, this information is appropriate for all vessels. However, there are some safety measures unique to man-powered boats that go a long way to improving safety for all boat traffic.

Here are a few to consider:

Make sure you are visible. Most life vests and wet suits are black, navy blue, red or forest green. THESE COLORS MAKE YOU INVISIBLE. They blend in with the water making it difficult to see the wearer at a distance when avoiding an accident is possible. As you are in a low profile vessel, high visibility is crucial not only to the motor boats, but also to other non-motorized vessels. Choose neon pinks, greens, and oranges. Safety yellow is fantastic. These colors can be on a hat, your bathing suit or shirts under life vests. Something!

Speak up. If a boat – with or without a motor – is getting too close, yell. Loudly. Don’t wait until the other vessel is too close to alert them. Holler on out.

Know the traffic pattern. The official traffic pattern on the lake is counter clockwise. As with driving, stay in the right-hand lane. Those on the right to have the right away. Depending on the weather and boat traffic, vessels may go against this in which case they should move towards the center of the lake (the right). If you choose to go clockwise, understand you’re going against traffic, be more alert, stay in your lane and be conscience of who has the right of way.

Have an emergency plan. The lake is busy. Accidents and emergencies happen. Have a plan in case one arises. For instance, who knows where you are, what your boat looks like and how long you plan to be out? Do you have ID on you? (RoadIDs are great choices As you make your way on the lake, check for docks you could use if you needed to. Most docks are designed for motor boats. They are high making them hard to reach from water level. Note which ones you can effectively reach from the water or your boat level. How would you move your craft if you only had your body to use? Whose phone number do you have memorized in case your phone sinks or is back in your car? These are easy things to consider. Most likely, you’re already doing many of them. Making them more intentional ups your safety level.

Understand your fellow motor-less boats. Even without motors, human-powered boats have different speeds, turning radii and stopping abilities. Kayaks move faster than canoes. Outrigger dragon boats have a unique balance point. Rowers face backwards and move fast. Stand-up paddlers have a high center of gravity. Sail boats have a wide turning radius. When maneuvering around or with these vessels, keep their unique properties in mind. Cutting in front of a rowing shell could get you t-boned. Not being alert on your paddle board could get you bumped by a sail boat. Obviously, no one wants to be that close, but it happens. Understanding the other vessels can help you anticipate what may or may not happen if there is a close encounter.

Lake Stevens’ diversified boating community is a testament to its beauty and the community’s vitality. Keeping its users safe is a group effort that takes relatively little time and cost. So as you gather up paddles, sails and slings, remember to do your part. Include these easy safety measures into your planning before you leave shore.

Rebecca Hoch is a Lake Stevens resident who spends her time on the lake in a rowing shell. She rows competitively, kayaks leisurely and occasionally steps into a motor boat. She currently works for NOAA’s West Coast Groundfish Observer Program as their newsletter editor and writes as a freelancer on various topics.

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