As Summer gets closer, we look forward to being outside, feeling the sun on our skin, and enjoying our fun filled boat days. But nothing ruins an awesome day on the lake quicker than an accident. So, while boating safety may not be the most fun topic, it is the most important one. Our exciting day is instantly ruined when we are faced with a problem out on the lake-and nobody wants that, right? Instead of being reactive and dealing with a situation when it happens, it’s usually a better idea to be proactive to avoid issues in the first place.
Checklist of Boating Supplies
Start off with making sure you have a few critical supplies on hand. You will need a life jacket for each person that is on board. If there are kids on board, make sure they are wearing child size life jackets. It’s important to have a first aid kit on board too. Even with minor cuts and scrapes, you want to have supplies on hand to handle whatever you face. You will want to have things like bandages, gauze, alcohol cleaning pads, aspirin, etc. A signaling device like a horn, bell, or whistle also needs to be available on the boat in case you need to get someone’s attention and let them know that you need assistance. You also need to have a fire extinguisher on board. Hopefully you will never have to deal with a fire, but you have to be prepared just in case. If a fire does ever break out on your boat, turn off the engine right away. And then break out those life jackets we just talked about. Have everyone put one on just to be safe. If you can, turn the boat so that the fire is downwind and then use the fire extinguisher. It may seem simple, but when you are caught up in the moment, it can be easy to forget how to use the fire extinguisher-especially if you have never used it before. Try to remember the acronym PASS-Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep from side to side.
One of the most critical things to understand on the lake are the buoys. Lake Martin Resource Association volunteers work hard all year to put these on the water and maintain them. They are there to protect you and make your days on the boat more enjoyable. Right now, there are more than 400 buoys on Lake Martin. Most of them are floating white buoys that are six feet tall, and have orange diamonds on them. You might also see some that are poles with similar markings. When you see those diamonds, be on the lookout, because that means there is something underwater that you want to avoid hitting. It could be a rock, stump, underwater shoal, or something that has sank in the lake. You may not see it, but it’s there, and that buoy has been placed to warn you of the hazard. You will also see buoys with an orange circle. Those are the Slow-No Wake buoys. There are also buoys with a diamond and cross in the middle that are used to alert boaters to keep out of a certain area. To learn more about the different buoys, you can check out LMRA’s buoy safety video here.
When you see the buoys, keep your distance. Make sure you stay at least 100 feet away so that you can avoid whatever is beneath the surface. Sometimes you might see buoys that are within 200 feet of each other. If you see that, don’t try to go between them. This can be a dangerous situation and it’s something you definitely want to avoid.
If you see a buoy within 100 feet of the shoreline, this could mean two things. Either the water is really shallow in that area, or there is something underwater between the buoy and the shoreline that you don’t want to hit. Either way, if you see a buoy that close, don’t try to take your boat between the buoy and the shore. And regardless of if you see a buoy or not, be super careful if you are within 50 feet of the shoreline, no matter if the water level is high or low. The water closer to the shoreline is shallow and there are plenty of rocks and stump hazards.
If you don’t know the lake that well, it’s a good idea to just not be out boating after daylight at all. There are some buoys that have a solar light mounted, and you can see those from a mile away. Those are limited though, and in the dark, it can be really hard to see things that could be dangerous. Even the buoys that you can clearly see in the day can be difficult to see at night.
Another time to be extra careful is when the water level is low during the months of October-March. With lower levels, some hazards that would be deeper during the Summer months, will then be closer to the surface- and could cause major problems if you hit them. Just to be clear, you can be on the lake during the Fall and Winter months. That is actually a really great time to fish. However, if you go, be very careful, especially if you don’t know the lake as well.
Sometimes, you may come across a damaged buoy, or you may notice that it has moved away from the hazard that it was intended to mark. Things happen-boats could hit them or strong winds could move them from their intended location. If you notice this, you need to notify Lake Martin Resource Association. On the buoy you will find a decal with the email address firstname.lastname@example.org and a telephone number to call. It also has the buoy’s identifying letter and numbers which tells the LMRA crew the specific GPS location of where the buoy was located. They need this information so that they can get the buoy back where it is supposed to be.
We couldn’t have a discussion about boating safety without mentioning docking lights. The only time that docking lights should be used is when you are…… docking. They are not supposed to be on when you are out on the open water. At night, these lights can affect the vision of other boaters and could cause them to not see on-coming boats. This is a boating respect thing and a safety thing. It won’t earn you any popularity points with other boaters, and it can be harmful to others. Just don’t do it. If you are busted using them out on the open water, you could also end up getting a ticket. That’s another way to ruin an awesome lake day really quickly.
It’s also very important to keep an eye on the weather when you are out on the water. It’s Alabama- and weather can change quickly. A storm can pop up out of nowhere, and take it from one who has been out in them, it’s a little freaky. Keep your eye on the sky and watch for temperature changes, changes in wind patterns, and changes in cloud formations. Those can be signs that a storm is brewing. If you are out on the lake and get caught in a storm, try to get to the closest safe shelter. If you have to ride out the storm on the boat, have everyone onboard put on a life jacket and get as close to the centerline as possible. Keep the bow of the boat to the wind, and ride the waves at a 45 degree angle.
If Something Happens
I hope that you don’t experience anything bad out on the water. If something does happen though, you can call the Marine Police in Alexander City at 256-329-2268. Go ahead and put that phone number in your cell phone just in case you need it. Hopefully you will never use it, but if you are in an emergency, you won’t want to take the time to Google the number at that time. Another number to put in your phone is TowBoatUS Lake Martin- 256-307-1313. Sometimes you may not experience an accident, but you may just have mechanical problems like a dead battery or the unthinkable scenario where you run out of gas. It happens-and you don’t want to be left in the middle of the lake if it does. They are available 24 hours a day to help.
Boating License, Classes, and Rules
If you are an Alabama resident, you do need to have a boating license. Residents 12 and older can get a license, but nobody under 14 can operate a boat alone. If you are not a resident of Alabama, you can operate a boat here for up to 45 days per year with no license. You can learn more about the boating requirements and processes here. Regardless of if you are a resident or non-resident, it’s not a bad idea to take a boating class. There are several options offered online and in person. Russell Marine even hosts an annual event each Spring just for the ladies called Women on the Water. It’s a Girls Day Out with a purpose-where women come together to learn about safe boating practices. Whether you take a class or not though, you should definitely make it a point to be aware of all of the Boating Rules and Regulations for the State of Alabama.
Some of these things may seem elementary to you, but we did tell you this was the Boating Safety 101 class. It’s never a bad idea for the pros to get a refresher. Another thing to be aware of is that last year was a record year for boat sales in our area. There are a lot of new boaters on the water, and not all of them may be aware of the standard safety procedures. Always be aware of the other boats around you. For the newbies, it’s important to get the basics down. Knowing how to be safe can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day out on the lake. Don’t be that guy or girl taking risks that may hurt yourself or others. It’s ok to ask questions. Be informed about the safety basics. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all safety procedures, but rather a place to start in your learning journey. We want you to have the best day ever while out enjoying beautiful Lake Martin, and part of that is making sure you are safe.