Category Archives: boats and boating

Michigan’s ‘Water Wonderland’

Boating Michigan’s ‘Water Wonderland’
By CASEY WARNER
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

In Michigan – a state with more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 36,000 miles of rivers and streams – you are never farther than 6 miles from a body of water or 85 miles from a Great Lake.

With such an abundance of water to enjoy, it’s no wonder Michigan is home to 4 million boaters. The state ranks third in the nation for both watercraft registrations and total expenditures for sale of new powerboats, trailers and accessories.

“Water is one of Michigan’s greatest natural resources,” said Ron Olson, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division. “We encourage residents and visitors to get out and explore all of the on-the-water opportunities the Great Lakes State affords. Michigan is truly a boater’s paradise.”

Making sure the state’s millions of boaters have ample opportunity to get their boats out on the water is the focus of the DNR’s Waterways Program.

“There are over 1,300 state-sponsored boating access sites throughout Michigan and 82 state-sponsored harbors along the Great Lakes – at a total value of over $1 billion,” said Jordan Byelich, DNR waterways development program manager.

Byelich explained that funding for public recreational boating facilities – land acquisition, design, construction, operation and maintenance – comes from boat registrations, the Michigan marine fuel tax and user fees. Projects also may be funded, on occasion, with federal dollars through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Coast Guard.

“We have a boating team made up of planning/development, grant management, operations and regulatory experts,” Byelich said. “Our 11 major maintenance crews and two construction crews perform various forms of specialized boating facility construction, including launch ramps, skid piers, vault toilets, parking lots, sidewalks and channel dredging.”

The DNR has renovated several boating access sites and harbors around the state.

One example is the recently constructed and expanded piers for mooring along Snail Shell Harbor at Fayette Historic State Park in Delta County, which offers a floating dock system with seven finger piers – one that is 38 feet long, two that are 45 feet long and four that are 60 feet long.

“This was a great improvement for visitors to Fayette Historic State Park,” said Olson. “The old dock was removed during the fall of 2015. The new pier system is quite beautiful.”

As part of a major reconstruction project at East Tawas State Harbor in Iosco County, boaters now can access modern amenities, improved safety features and a better connection to the local community.

The project helps the harbor respond to current trends in Great Lakes boating. The facility now features many enhancements, including new piers, a greater variety of slip sizes, compliance with the latest Americans with Disabilities Act standards, new electrical pedestals, as well as a new pump-out system.

“The harbor currently has 160 slips, with all brand-new floating docks,” said Micah Jordan, lead ranger/supervisor at Tawas Point State Park and East Tawas State Harbor. “It is maintained by an all-new electrical system that detects and reports electrical current in the water, meeting the new federal codes for harbors and marinas.”

Connection to the downtown area, which is popular with boaters, also has been improved.

“East Tawas Harbor is unique due to its location in Tawas and location in the state. It’s perfectly located on the beautiful shore of Tawas Bay, only a few hours from many major towns, and therefore it draws large numbers of visitors each year looking to enjoy recreation on the water or as a transient stop on their way north or south,” Jordan said. “The harbor itself is located in the middle of town and provides amazing access to downtown East Tawas within walking distance to major shopping and dining. It creates a perfect spot for tourism and is a major boost to the local businesses.”

Another DNR facility improved recently is the boating access site at Silver Lake State Park in Oceana County. The work was part of a redevelopment project that relocated the launching area, dredged a new channel, added parking for vehicles with trailers, improved circulation, and created separation of the day-use area from the launching area supporting improved safety and functionality within the park.

Boating access site improvements included adding a two-lane concrete launch ramp, dredging a 300-foot channel to deeper water, a vault toilet, and a maneuvering area for launching and retrieving boats.

A recent renovation project at the Jewell Road boating access site in Cheboygan County, which accesses Mullett Lake, addressed erosion issues at the site and included removal of an old concrete ramp, which was replaced with a new double-lane ramp. The site’s parking lot was also paved as part of the project.

State-funded boating facilities are quite popular with Michigan boaters.

And while many harbors see heavy use, others don’t get used as much as they could.

Straits State Harbor in Cheboygan County is among them.

“Straits State Harbor’s boat launch is still fairly quiet overall for the summer,” said Megan Izzard, assistant harbor master there. “This is partly due to how new our facility is – we’re entering our ninth season – and people still not knowing that we are here.”

Straits State Harbor’s state-of-the-art, sustainable design has earned it certification as a Michigan Clean Marina, a designation given to sites that adopt marina and boating practices that reduce pollution and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

The state harbor facility – the only one in Michigan using wind turbines for electrical generation – also gives boaters who want to go to Mackinac Island another option, as the very popular Mackinac Island State Harbor is often crowded.

“Straits State Harbor has capacity and is a great way to access Mackinac Island – it’s a good option by taking a ferry,” Olson said.

The location of the harbor’s boat launch also offers some unique benefits.

In the DNR’s 2017 harbor survey, 93 percent of respondents said they would visit the harbor/marina again, and 90 percent said they would recommend the facility to a friend.

This support of public waterways facilities is evident. For example, just nine of the state harbors pump a total of more than 300,000 gallons of fuel to boats each year.

“Michigan offers countless boating opportunities,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, boating law administrator for the state of Michigan. “But having fun on the water also means being safe. Taking simple precautions, always staying in control of the vessel and following the law will help ensure an enjoyable outing.”

“You can launch here and be under the Mackinac Bridge in five to 10 minutes, and we are the closest state boat launch that someone can use to get to Mackinac Island,” Izzard said. “This boat launch is attached to a full-facility marina, so you can launch just for the day or you can launch and stay overnight while enjoying our wonderful facility.”

Cedar River State Harbor in Menominee County is what Ian Diffenderfer, unit supervisor at the harbor and at Wells State Park, calls a “very quiet and secluded harbor and boat launch.”

“It’s centered 30 miles between Menominee and Escanaba and is a quiet refuge for a trip to these locations or a stop over from Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula and Washington Island,” Diffenderfer said. “Amenities include pump-out services, gasoline/diesel, bicycles, boat launch, fire pit, restroom and shower facilities, horseshoe court, and local delivery for food.”

Boaters can find location and amenity information about boating access sites and harbors within the Michigan Recreational Boating Information System. Information on harbors also can be found in the Michigan Harbors Guide.

Many harbors accept reservations, which can be made at midnrreservations.com or by calling 800-44-PARKS.

June 9-16 marks Michigan Boating Week, when the DNR invites residents and visitors to celebrate the state’s unparalleled freshwater resources and boating opportunities.

While enjoying Michigan’s waters, it’s important that boaters protect themselves and others by following important safety tips.

Boaters born after June 30, 1996, and most personal watercraft operators must have a boater education safety certificate. The DNR also recommends a boating safety course for anyone who plans to use a boat or personal watercraft. Classes are offered at locations around the state and online, making it convenient and affordable.

Wanless encourages boaters to:

Wear a life jacket.
Avoid drinking alcohol.
Make sure the boat is properly equipped and equipment is in good working order.
File a float plan.
Stay alert.
Carry a cell phone or marine radio.
Watch a video on how boaters can help stop the spread of invasive species.

Find more information about Michigan boating – maps, safety, closures, rules and regulations, and more – at www.michigan.gov/boating.

Water is Michigan’s largest natural resource, and with so many opportunities to access our state’s freshwater paradise, it’s easy to find a facility that will float your boat.

How Much Fishing Equipment Is Too Much?

Someone walking into Berry’s Sporting Goods who does not bass fish will be amazed at the vast array of lures on display. There are soft plastics, crankbaits and wire contraptions in every color of the rainbow, and many other colors never seen anywhere else other than maybe an artist’s dreams.

Everything comes in an amazing number of shapes and sizes, and many things look like something from a science fiction movie. All of them have a purpose – to catch fishermen’s dollars! But they will probably all catch fish, too.

That being said, my “tackle box” is a 20-foot-long bass boat with four compartments filled with all kinds of lures. I could get in and hide in a couple of those compartments they are so big. And the walls of my garage are lined with big boxes of lures and sacks of plastic worms that I no longer use but won’t throw away. I use many of them as prizes in our kid’s tournaments.

They will all catch fish, but I have settled on a couple of colors of plastic worms I always use, and a few crankbait in favorite colors. I carry some other colors in my boat just in case, but there are not enough hours in a day to try them all. I have confidence in certain baits, so I tend to fish them all day.

Some people constantly change baits and colors trying to find the magic one for that day and conditions. And it probably works, for them, but I am confident in one or two colors based on water color and time of year. That simplifies things and makes it easier but may not be the best thing every trip.

On the deck of my boat I usually have 14 rods up front, seven on each side. And if fishing alone there are usually six or seven more at the back deck. I say one side is the rods I plan to use, the other side is just in case I want to try something different, and the ones in back are my desperation rods.

There is another dozen in my rod locker. Most fishermen put their rods up after fishing but there is no room in my locker for all of mine, so they just stay strapped down on the deck all the time.

There is a good reason for having so many rods. I not have to stop and tie on a new bait to try if I want to, I simply pick up a different rod and start casting. And rods come in a wide variety of lengths, actions and taper. Some are better for certain baits.

For example, a stiff rod with a light tip, or fast action, is best for baits like a Texas rigged worm or jig and pig. But for a crankbait those rods are too stiff, you need a longer rod with medium action. A stiff rod will often pull the hooks out of the fish while fighting it on a crankbait.

One small compartment is filled with spools of line. I have everything from six to 20-pound test line in monofilament and fluorocarbon, and there are also a couple of spools of braided line for special conditions.

Worms and jigs call for heavy line, and I like fluorocarbon since it is almost invisible in the water. Crankbaits are better on lighter line since it allows them to run deeper. And topwater needs monofilament since fluorocarbon sinks and hurts the action of the bait.

Braid is used when fishing around grass. It will cut through it when fighting a fish and has no stretch, so you can pull fish from cover quickly. But it is very visible in the water and I think it spooks fish when fishing clear water, so it is not good under all conditions.

Electronics are a whole nother story! When I got a new boat two years ago, it came with for big Humminbird depthfinders. The are capable of showing a sonar image, a down and side scan image and include a GPS map. The sonar shows a quick glance at anything under the boat. The down scan shows a detailed image of anything under the boat, to the point of showing every limb on a brush pile and even fish holding in it.

The side scan can be set to show things out to either side of the boat. You can ride slowly by a dock and see the post on it and fish holding under it. And going around a point looking for cover, you can find rocks, brush, drop offs and fish without going right over them. I keep mine set to show 60 feet out on either side of the boat, so I cover a 120-foot-wide strip on every pass.

One thing that came on my new/used boat is the 360 scan. I had never had one but will never be without one in the future. On the screen it shows what looks like a radar with rotating dial. Anything anywhere around the boat shows up. You don’t have to go right over something to fish it.

I have been amazed how many times I would be fishing around a point I have fished for 40 years, casting toward the bank. I would see a rock or brush pile or drop off out from the boat, cast to it and catch a fish. I never knew that cover was there and would never have found it unless idling around looking at down and side scan.

All these things may seem to give me an unfair advantage over the bass, and they help, but it is amazing how often bass with a brain the size of a marble outsmart me and all my equipment!

Bass Boats Have Come A Long Way In 44 Years

My first bass boat was a 1974 17-foot Arrowglass with a 70 horsepower two stroke Evinrude motor, foot controlled 12 volt trolling motor with about 40 pounds of thrust and a Lowrance flasher depthfinder on the console. It would run about 35 miles per hour top speed. It had an Anchormate on both ends, a winch that raised and lowered a ten-pound mushroom shaped anchor. There was on car battery that cranked the boat and ran everything on it.

The trailer was a single axle one with 12-inch tires. I carried a paper lake map with me that showed the basic outline of the lake. I did order a contour map of Clarks Hill, a 52-page book with pages two feet square, that showed depth contours in five-foot intervals. I put sections of it on the wall in my lake trailer.

The Arrowglass had a live well of sorts, that would fill about four inches deep with water to keep fish alive, but it did not work very well. The boat was top of the line at the time, and cost just under half my annual teacher’s salary when bought new.

When I joined the Sportsman Club that April I had the second biggest motor in the club, there was one 100 horsepower, and the second longest boat. Most boats were 14-foot Sing Fishers with 40 horsepower motors and stick steering.

Now I have a top of the line 2016 20-foot Skeeter with a 250 horsepower four stroke motor that will fly down the lake at over 75 miles per hour if I get in a hurry. The trolling motor is a foot controlled 36-volt 112 pound thrust one that will zip the boat along on high and hold it in any wind as long as the waves are not so high they lift the front of the boat get the motor out of the water. It requires four big deep cycle batteries to run everything.

There are two live wells that hold about 20 gallons of water. Pumps pull water from the lake to fill them and constantly put in fresh water. Other pumps recirculate the water, keeping it oxygenated, and with the pull of a valve will pump the water out of them to drain then faster than just opening the plug, which can be done remotely.

On the back are two Power Pole shallow water anchors. With a push of a button I can extend or retract poles that go down eight feet deep to hold the boat in one place. There are two Humminbird Helix 10 depthfinders on the front and two more on the console, each with 10-inch screens. The trailer is a dual axle with 14-inch tires. It cost almost 20 times as much as my first boat, even though I bought it used. Although my salary had gone up a bit before I retired, the used boat cost almost a full year’s pay.

The change in deptfinders is unreal. My old Lowrance had a light that spun around a dial marked in depth numbers and flashed when its sonar pulse hit something. Thats why they were called “flashers.” The bottom showed as a constant bright line and anything above the bottom, like a fish or brush, flashed at its depth.

My Helix 10s are like TV screens. Just the electronics on my new boat sell for more than three times the total cost of my first boat. They are networked together and can be divided into windows and all four will show everything that shows up on any of them. A GPS map shows bottom contours of the lake with great detail and I can highlight a depth.

If I want to fish from 5 to 10 feet deep I can highlight it in red and keep my boat just outside it to fish that depth consistently. I can also see shallow spots to avoid as I run down the lake and put in waypoints to exactly mark a brush pile or anything else I want to go back to.

The depthfinder part is an LCD that shows a moving picture of whatever is below the boat, in color. It will show in detail brush, stumps and fish. The down and side scan paint a picture that looks like a photo, with brush, stumps and rocks looking just like they would look if you were able to see them. Fish show up as small white dots.

Even more amazing on the front is a 360 Scan transducer. The image it produces looks like a radar screen with a line going around a circle picture. It scans all around the boat, showing rocks, brush and fish ahead, to the sides and even behind the boat. I have mine set on 60 feet, so I see everything within that distance of the boat.

My first boat was a tri hull that was stable while fishing but pounded through waves and jarred you if the water was rough. My new boat is stable while fishing but will cut through two to three-foot waves with little bouncing. It is three feet longer and much heavier, which helps a lot.

Do I need all the stuff I now have? No. Do I like having it? Yes. Do all the advancements help me catch more fish? Maybe. After all the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

Pontoon Boats Not Suited for Offshore Angling

Why Are Pontoon Boats Not Suited for Offshore Angling?
By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

I love pontoon boats. In fact, I’d have to say of all the boats I’ve owned (20-something at last count), the 22-foot pontoon was my favorite–just a truly comfortable multi-purpose rig that worked fine as a one-man (plus dog) fishboat on many foggy dawns, but could then be loaded up with a dozen family members on the weekends and function as a towboat, picnic barge and general muck-about.

And there are now larger pontoons, up to 12 feet wide and 30 feet long, that can handle some serious water. And there are lots of pontoons that, buckled up to a 300-hp outboard, can take you down the lake at 50 mph. There are even a few that accept twin V6 outboards for even higher speeds.

That said, one of the places that pontoons do not belong is 6 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, which is where the Coast Guard found a 24-footer half sunk with six anglers aboard this past week, west of Sarasota, Florida. Everyone got home safe thanks to the rescue team, but the outing could easily have had a much more unhappy ending.

Because of their design–two or three aluminum pontoons supporting a completely flat deck extending from bow to stern–pontoons can get in serious trouble in rough water. The air-filled pontoons give the boats buoyancy, and they can ride up and over waves up to maybe 3 feet tall, depending on their frequency–lots of sharp, steep 3-footers are not survivable in most pontoons, while long rollers can be ridden out.

But even the biggest pontoons have very little “freeboard” compared to the typical vee-hull boat or offshore catamaran. Many vee-hulls designed for regular offshore use have a forward depth over 40 inches, while the largest pontoons are usually under 24 inches from the deck to the waterline.

What’s more, pontoons do not have bilge pumps–if they get a hole in the compartments of the aluminum sponsons, that compartment can fill with water. The several sealed compartments in each pontoon will keep the boat afloat, but particularly if the hole is in a bow compartment–which is most likely because that’s the section of the boat that takes the brunt of the wave action as well as experiencing lots of wear and tear from grinding up on a gravel beach or bumping a dock–the boat may start to go “head down”, making her even less sea-worthy in rough water.

Pontoons seem impossibly stable in most conditions because of their widely-spread sponson design–they hardly lean to port and starboard at all, as do conventional vee-hulls. This tends to give users a sense of security that’s not really there when the boat gets in truly rough seas.

And when green water starts coming over the front deck, things can go south immediately; the boat becomes impossible to steer, drops off plane, and is likely to tilt to one side or the other as the water tries to get out.

I speak not from offshore experience in pontoons–I never took mine outside the inlet–but from wake-eating experience; on a couple of occasions I was careless enough to run head on into a steep, rolling wake of a big ICW-cruising yacht. In one case, the wave actually broke the windshield off the console and sent it into my lap. You’d think that would have been an adequate warning, but a couple years later I again stuck the nose and soaked everybody up front, though with no boat damage.

This same sort of steep roller is common in inlets everywhere, particularly where wind and tide oppose. And an inlet that’s a pussy cat on the way out, with wind and tide both heading seaward, can be a snarling monster on the way back when the tide is coming in and the wind is blowing hard against it, or vice versa. It’s no place for even experienced skippers in small boats–a weekend captain in a pontoon can get in deep trouble quickly.

In short, pontoons are lovely family boats on the lakes and rivers and most of the bays of America, but they clearly don’t belong offshore, even in temptingly calm weather.

Best Family-Friendly Places to Fish and Boat

RBFF Hooks Nation with 2017 Best Family-Friendly Places to Fish and Boat
from The Fishing Wire

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) has released their 2017 list of the Best Family-Friendly Places to Fish and Boat. The list of locations is bolstered by endorsements from celebrities and fishing pros, and the help of federal and state representatives. The announcement helps kick off the weeklong celebration of on-the-water activity that is National Fishing and Boating Week, June 3 – 11.

New this year, a group of distinguished contributors and experts have sourced the list, sharing their favorite family-friendly fishing and boating spots. Country music star Luke Bryan headlines this year’s contributors, alongside fellow musician Justin Moore, pro football player Alejandro Villanueva and a host of industry experts.

The full list of 2017 Best Family-Friendly Places to Fish and Boat is available at TakeMeFishing.org and highlights include:

Percy Priest Lake, Tenn. – Country music star Luke Bryan admits “a good fisherman never shares his best spot,” but still offers up his favorite place to escape his fast-paced world for some relaxing time on the water. Known for “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” Bryan’s favorite spot near Nashville is a natural addition to this year’s list. Bryan has a clothing line of the same name available at Cabela’s, and fans can catch the country music megastar on his HFE tour this summer.
Presque Isle Bay, Pa. – Professional offensive lineman and former Army Ranger, Alejandro “Big Al” Villanueva, picked this popular spot on Lake Erie, and knows a thing or two about the importance of good tackle and a strong line. When he’s not protecting the quarterback, Al says, “I spend a lot of my free time fishing and really cherish any time on the water.”
Degray Lake, Ark. – Having grown up in nearby Poyen, Ark., country music singer Justin Mooreoften frequented Degray Lake as a young boy, and passed down his love of fishing to his own kids. He remembers, “watching my oldest daughter catch her first fish all by herself has to be my favorite moment out there.”
Texas City Dyke, Texas – Professional angler Cindy Nguyen added this spot, noting, “I grew up fishing in Texas City Dyke and the surrounding areas. It’s still one of my favorite places to bring the family.”

Central Park, N.Y. – Host of South Bend’s Lunkerville, Michael de Avila, better known to his fans as Mike D., picked an unexpected fishing oasis in the middle of the nation’s largest city. Central Park offers three unique family-friendly spots at the lake, the pond and the Harlem Meer.

Webb Lake, Fla. – Women’s sportfishing advocate and outdoor writer Debbie Hanson loves the fishing at wildlife at Webb Lake. “Not only is Webb Lake great for numbers of largemouth bass and bluegill, but there are also some fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities. I’ve spotted sandhill cranes, great blue herons and white-tailed deer on my visits.”
South Padre Island, Texas – Pedro Sors, professional angler and Mexico’s most popular fishing TV show host, chose this popular spot for its ability to provide him and his sons with “a sense of freedom and a way to connect with nature and myself.”
Buckeye Creek, Calif. – Chelsea Day of the Someday I’ll Learn blog, fondly recalls memories at this picturesque spot in the eastern Sierras. “Our oldest son caught his first fish at this spot, and it was really special to be able to cook it right up and serve it for dinner at the campsite. Such a sense of accomplishment for him!”

“This year we decided to ask some of our friends and partners where they like to go fishing, and the response has been overwhelming,” said RBFF President and CEO, Frank Peterson. “While the locations are as diverse as the people who shared them, some key themes emerged. Fishing and boating are easy ways to escape life’s tensions, and you’re never too far from a quality body of water. So whether you’re getting over a stressful week at the office or simply trying to cut back on screen time, this is the year to get out on the water together to help conserve and restore our nation’s aquatic natural resources.”

We encourage all stakeholders to share the 2017 Best Family-Friendly Places to Fish and Boat list in the lead-up to National Fishing and Boating Week and beyond.

About the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF)

RBFF is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase participation in recreational angling and boating, thereby protecting and restoring the nation’s aquatic natural resources. RBFF developed the award-winning Take Me Fishing™ and Vamos A Pescar™ campaigns to create awareness around boating, fishing and conservation, and educate people about the benefits of participation. Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar help boaters and anglers of all ages and experience levels learn, plan and equip for a day on the water. The campaign websites, www.TakeMeFishing.org, and www.VamosAPescar.org , feature how-to videos, information on how to get a fishing license and boat registration, and an interactive state-by-state map that allows visitors to find local boating and fishing spots.

Light Your Boat

Be Safe, Be Seen
Editor’s Note: Here’s an article from the Virginia Conservation Police that’s important reading for any recreational boater who operates after sundown, anywhere on U.S. waters.
from The Fishing Wire

DGIF Conservation Police Officers on the water often see some strange lights at night, and they are not from UFOs. Despite the trend to light your boat, your lighting configuration may not only be creating a navigation hazard for your fellow night-time boaters, but they may also be illegal.

Most everyone knows the proper lighting configuration for motorboats. When a motorboat is operated at night, sidelights are required on the bow (front) and an all-around white light at the stern (back) of all motorboats. The required colors of the sidelights are red and green – red lights belong on the port side of the vessel and green lights belong on the starboard side of the vessel. The port side is the left side of the boat when facing the bow (front) of the boat when standing inside the boat. These lights are required to shine from dead ahead to 112.5° on their respective sides. Most recreational motorboats can utilize an all-around white light on the stern (back) of the motorboat (if your boat is greater than 39′ check this site). A full circle of white light is created by an all-around light – the light must be visible 360°. This light needs to be 1 meter (3.3 feet) above the sidelights and not blocked by any portion of the vessel. When a boat is anchored at night, the side navigation lights are extinguished, but the all-around white light must be on. The proper placement of a boat’s navigation lights allows other boaters to determine what type of boat you are (manual vs power vs sail) and which direction you are heading so that right-of-way can be determined.

These rules on lighting configuration have not changed in years, but more and more, our officers are seeing lighting violations and motorboats operating at night that are a hazard to others. Officer Michael Morris of Smith Mountain Lake reports several “strange” things he has seen while boating at night. All-around light (stern light) issues include: placing black tape over part of the part of the stern light that shines down inside the boat; placing a hat, sock, bag, etc. over the stern light when trolling; positioning the stern light too low so that it cannot be seen because it is blocked by the operator or motor while underway; pontoon boats with vinyl tops that fold up and block the visibility of the stern light or the stern lights will be folded down which causes them to not be visible when approaching head on.

Another issue often seen at night is boats operating with their docking lights on. Stacey Brown recalls a time when a boater mistakenly called these lights the “head lights” for the boat. Boats do not have head lights; the docking lights should only be used close to where the boat is being moored to ensure safe docking at night. Boats using docking lights while away from the dock are a hazard to other boaters. It interferes with the night-time vision required to safely operate at night. Docking lights may also cause the red and green navigation lights to become washed out so other boaters are unable to determine navigational right of way.

There are often violations with the red and green navigation sidelights as well. Some bass boats have trolling motors that block the red and green navigation lights. We are seeing after-market strip style LED lights being installed on boats. All lights still need to meet the Coast Guard requirement for visibility and the 112.5 arc of visibility as mentioned above. Unless your boat was manufactured with these lights (manufacturers follow the USCG boat building guidelines) – we do not recommend replacing your existing lights with any after-market lighting configuration. We have been receiving complaints that those lights are too bright and interfere with the ability of other boaters to safely navigate the waterways by impeding their night vision and making it difficult to see your navigation lights.

Recently, the most frequent request for information regards the placement of other LED strip lights that might be placed along the sides or stern of a motorboat. As is true with other lighting issues, the installation of these lights may impact the ability of other boaters to safely navigate the waterways by impeding their night vision and making it difficult to see your navigation lights. In addition, boaters are prohibited from using lights that might be confused for navigation lights (white, green, red), or light colors reserved for law enforcement (blue), or any other color used in the navigation rules (yellow is reserved for towing/tugs).

Night navigation brings many challenges to boaters on Virginia’s waters and the importance of knowing the navigation rules. New LED options may make your boat look “cool”, but may be a hazard to other boaters when you are underway. Be responsible, be safe, have fun!

Learn More:

Virginia Watercraft Owner’s Guide

Boat Safety

There was another boating accident in early Februry, this one on Allatoona a little over a week ago. From the information I can get two boats were going in opposite directions through a big “S” bend and almost hit. When one of the boats made a sharp turn to avoid the other, the three men in the boat were thrown out. None of them were wearing life jackets and two of them drowned, if the information I read is correct.

This is a terrible example of what can happen if folks do not know the “rules of the road” for driving a boat. For some reason boat drivers do not think it is important to keep right. If they drove a car like they drive a boat they would be running up I-75 driving north in the south bound lanes.

Going around a bend in the lake or river, where you cannot see very far, it is critical to stay right. Many boat drivers make the stupid mistake of cutting around a point close to the bank on their left to save time or distance. This is the correct thing if the point is on your right. It is the opposite of what you should do if the point is on your left.

Stay way off the bank when going around a blind point to your left. Stay out where you can see oncoming boats. It can save your life.

I do not know if that is what happened at Allatoona, but that kind of accident or close call happens almost every day in warm weather when people are stupid and don’t drive a boat correctly.

I have even had people driving a boat I was meeting in wide open water go to the wrong side, meeting on the left rather than the right, and look at me like I am wrong. That kind of dumb or uninformed driving can kill.

Offshore In A Pontoon Boat

Offshore is No Where for Pontoon Boats
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

The Coast Guard assisted a sinking pontoon boat off Holmes Beach, Florida, this past weekend, bringing to the fore the boom in these popular and very family-friendly watercraft, but also their limitations. The boat was 12 miles offshore and taking on water. Twelve miles offshore, in a pontoon boat!

Because pontoons are no longer necessarily sub-20-mph vessels thanks to triple pontoon designs, larger tubes, planing strakes and beefed up transoms that can handle 300 horses and more, a portion of the thousands who are buying them these days come to think of them as potential open water and even offshore fishing machines/cruisers.

And while the larger models–some are 30 feet long and 12 feet wide these days–are definitely far more seaworthy than the classic 22-footer with an 8-foot beam and two small pontoons, they are definitely not capable of dealing with rough inlets, nor with the big rollers that sometimes build rapidly offshore in storm conditions.

And they can’t run home rapidly when things start to go south–most of the time, before a pontoon can get back, seas will have built to the point that running at speed is impossible. This is true even in deep-vee monohulls designed for offshore travel–in a pontoon boat–even one capable of 50 mph in flat water–it happens very fast.

Pontoons are incredibly stable in flat water, which tends to give us (I’m a long time ‘tooner) a sense that they will be that way in rough water. But, while pontoons do great in little 1 to 2 footers, when the seas get tall enough and steep enough to start slopping over the bow and up on the deck, you’re already in trouble.

The front of a pontoon boat is vertical and flat, just exactly what you don’t want to have to stick into an on-coming roller–that’s why real offshore boats have a “pointy end”, a bow with what designers call a sharp “entry” designed to split the waves and lift the bow over them.

While the pontoons provide lots of lift and will ride over some considerable seas at low speeds, they will simply stuff the nose of the boat into a wall of water at some point where seas too tall and speed too great converge. The front “fence” or railing likely will be swept back into the boat, and several tons of water will come surging in on the deck. Fortunately, it will run back out pretty rapidly on most designs, but if a second wave hits before the deck has cleared, the boat may very well decide to roll, or may at least squat so far aft as the weight shifts that the motor sucks in water. Without power in rough seas, most boats don’t last long.

Even big inland lakes can overcome a pontoon in some conditions, though ‘toons are pretty much as seaworthy as most boats designed for inland use. The idea there is just to be aware that some weather is simply too much for most recreational boats, and that if you have any doubt whatsoever about how safe your boat will be in the conditions you’re likely to face, you don’t venture into open water.

To be sure, I’m not saying that larger pontoons should never venture outside an inlet–those riding on large triple pontoons can handle riding through passes and down the beach or crossing big open bays without problem in good weather. (Be aware, though, that wakes from large yachts and commercial boats can give everybody aboard wet feet or worse if you hit their wake wrong.) But heading 10 miles or more offshore in a recreational pontoon of any design is never a good idea.

Fortunately, these days in most areas, there’s no reason to let the weather catch you by surprise–just ask Siri or Cortana anytime you have doubts, and check the weather radar on your phone or your GPS, if properly equipped, regularly, particularly if you see clouds approaching.

Pontoons are wonderful family fishing and boating platforms, probably safer than most other types of boats, and certainly more comfortable–they have converted tens of thousands of non-boating families to boat lovers in recent years. But knowing their limitations before you leave the dock for the first time, or the hundredth, is a must.

Boating Comedy Can Be Dangerous

The boating comedy show continues at area lakes. After a relatively sane weekend at Bartletts Ferry two weeks ago, this past weekend at Sinclair proved the inconsiderate and those too stupid to follow rules and laws have not put boats away yet.

The most dangerous thing I saw as at the Highway 441 Bridge. I had pulled under it around noon to get in the shade and was watching two young boys fish from kayaks. The older looked to be about 14 and the younger one maybe 10. They were having a great time fishing around the pilings in their tiny boats.

All bridges in Georgia have big “No Wake” signs and buoys on them. There are at least two reasons for that law. Going under a bridge your visibility is limited by pilings and riprap. Going slowly helps avoid an accident. No wake also helps protect other boats from being slammed into pilings and thrown around under the bridge.

As is usual many barges slowed down enough so their wake was only a foot or two high rather than the three or four foot wakes they usually throw off. The kids in the kayaks had a tough time when hit with even a one foot wake. If their boats had been damaged or if they had been swamped and drowned, the boat driver making the wake would be legally liable for it.

The worst I saw was an idiot in a pontoon boat. He came at the bridge wide open, having to go around the no wake buoy on the way, and duck down to keep from hitting the bridge with his head. There is no way he could see other boats under the bridge or coming to it since he could not even keep his head up. He went under the bridge at full throttle. I tried to get my phone out to video it and get his registration numbers to report but did not have time.

The dumbest thing I saw was at the boat ramp. I came in a little early and the only other club member at the dock was Kwong. He tied up and went for his trailer as I idled in. As I tied up I knew we were in trouble. The double ramp had a big SUV with a trailer backed in almost taking up the middle of the ramp. The big barge he wanted to load was tied to the dock and when he got out of the SUV he left his door open, further blocking the other side of the ramp.

Kwong finally got his trailer backed in around the open door and I pulled him to the top of the hill, went back to my boat and he tried to back my trailer in for me to load. But now not only was the inconsiderate idiot’s door open, the three people with him were standing in the middle of the one open ramp. They finally moved when Kwong almost hit them with the back of the trailer.

I got my boat loaded and Kwong pulled me to the top of the hill. I watched as another club members pulled their boat out. The guy with the barge was still trying to get his on the trailer right. Then he pulled up just enough to clear the water with the back of his boat, not only blocking that ramp but also blocking the area where you have to swing around to back you trailer in.

I think the whole club took our boats out on one ramp while that idiot blocked the other one. Maybe it will get too cold for such inconsiderate folks soon.

Traditional End to Boating on Labor Day

Tradition has it that Labor Day is the end of the boating season. This is not a traditional year!

Last weekend while fishing a club tournament at Jackson I was shocked at the number of barges still on the lake. I consider boats that don’t plane off, that just plow through the water making a huge wake, a barge.

Although they are great for skiing and they don’t really bother me when they are out on the lake, for some reason some drivers think they have to stay near the bank and get as close as possible to fishermen. That does cause problems.

One boat at Jackson just before noon was not only being inconsiderate, they were breaking the law. I was fishing a long point in Tussahaw Creek and had put a marker out about 100 yards from the bank where the point dropped from ten feet deep into deeper water. From my marker back to the bank the bottom slowly sloped off.

There was one boat that came between me and the bank about 75 feet off the bank. I have no idea how they didn’t hit the bottom. This big boat was plowing along about 25 miles an hour making a wake at least four feet high. And no one was behind the boat skiing.

Not only did they rock me a lot, they went by a dock with pontoon boat tied to it. They were within 50 feet of the dock. Georgia law says boats must stay at least 100 feet from a dock unless at idle speed. When the barge went by the dock I though its wake would tear up the pontoon boat.

They kept going along the bank like that as far as I could see them. At weigh-in I mentioned it and another club member said that same boat came by him just like that, way up the Alcovy River. Apparently the folks in that boat ran the whole shoreline of Jackson Lake just like that. I wonder how many boats they damaged that were tied to docks.

I expect pleasure boaters to be inconsiderate of fishermen, but I find no excuse for someone in a fishing boat to do that. While on that same point in Tussahaw creek a bass boat was puling tubers. For some reason their route made them circle over the point I was fishing rather than go 100 yards to more open water. They circled within feet of my marker, some times when I was within casting distance of it, repeatedly.

The fun did not end at the ramp. We were taking out at 1:30 at the Georgia Power Ramp. There is a double ramp there with docks on each side. When I pulled up someone in a pontoon was tied to the dock, completely blocking one ramp. I watched as they finally got a trailer backed in and started trying to load it as two or three boats either launched or took out from the one ramp they left open.

In the meantime three teenage boys had pulled to the top of the ramp. They were waiting to put their bass boat in. They started yelling at the older men having trouble with the pontoon, fussing at them for being so slow, I think.

When the pontoon finally moved the teenagers got their boat backed into the water after several tries. For some unknown reason one of them was wading along beside it. He finally got into the boat and, after several minutes, got it cranked.

He kept trying to back it off the trailer but it would not move. He yelled at the truck driver to back in further and kept having problems. He finally had the diver pull up on the ramp so he could get out of the boat, walk around to the back of it and unhook his rear tiedowns.

One of these days it will be cold enough to make some folks stay home. I won’t miss the comedy.