We have looked at the issue of collisions between boats and, while that is very important, the thing we are most likely to hit -- especially with the low lake levels -- is the lake bottom or things attached to the bottom.
Our lake now provides us with great opportunity to "go aground," and the prudent boater will take extra precautions to reject this opportunity.
There is an old saw that there are just two kinds of boaters -- those who have gone aground and those who will. While that might be true, there are some ways to prevent grounding, and then there are some ways to recover.
FIRST, PREVENTION. We need to pay attention to the environment -- lake levels and where the shallow areas and protrusions (trees, rocks and shallows) are located. Local knowledge is king. Ask other boaters what they have found and then mark your chart accordingly. When you discover danger areas, mark them and report your observations to your marina and fellow boaters.
If you do not have a depth finder, get one. These inexpensive (compared to the damage of grounding) instruments are very accurate. You need to know what parts of your boat extend below the depth finder's sensor.
For instance, on my boat, which draws one foot, the sensor is on the rear bottom. My outboard extends down another foot. I now know what the depth is from my sensor to the bottom; the actual depth of the water will be one foot more. I also know that, as far as my boat is concerned, I need to plan on the depth being one foot less that the depth finder reading due to my propeller's depth.
Most depth finders also depict trees on the bottom. Right now, this is vital information.
Keep a good lookout. Have someone dedicated to looking at the water directly ahead of the boat. Often the use of polarized sunglasses and binoculars is helpful. To make the lookout effective, drive slowly.
Be aware of the aids to navigation (ATONs). Stay in the channel. If you are boating on the northern part of the lake, stay really close to the mid-channel markers (white buoys with black vertical strips). Also be aware that they are sometimes off station due to winds or broken anchors. If it doesn't look right, it probably isn't, so a very slow speed might be called for. Remember, you are now an explorer into an undefined environment.
No matter what you do, you still might run aground or hit a submerged object. If that happens, come to a stop -- if you haven't already done that the hard way. Next, have everyone put on their life jacket. Then examine your hull and the engine lower unit(s) for damage.
SECOND, HOW TO RECOVER . If you are truly stuck, here are some maneuvers that can help:
- Find out what part of the boat is stuck. If it is the engine, raise it and see what that does. You then might have to get out and push the boat away from whatever you are grounded on, and then restart your engine.
- If the bow is stuck, move everyone to the stern, thus raising the bow. The reverse works if the stern is stuck.
- Ask for help by radio, cell phone or hand signal. A good pull, either forward or astern, might solve the problem.
In any event, there are two things not to do. Don't panic. Unless your boat is taking on water, you are probably safe and can await help. Second, do not try to swim to shore unless it is close. (You might be able to just walk to shore with our lake like it is.)
On Sept. 28, Coast Guard Auxiliary Coxswain Carl Dearmin and crew did an ATON inspection patrol from Hickory Knob Park to the Russell Dam. Things are not good. Above buoy 130, the buoy system is unreliable due to the wrong location of many of the buoys. The most extreme condition was that buoy 113 is six miles off- station.
Due to budget cuts, it is unlikely the Corps of Engineers will be able to restore the system in the near future. When they do, we will let you know.
The patrol also found many new sandbars, hills and trees broaching the surface or just below the surface.
Make no mistake about it. Our lake is still a paradise and the prudent boater can still find much enjoyment -- but the key word is prudent.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170, or at email@example.com.
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