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Safe boating week: Tips for cruising WNY waters

As the Western New York weather slowly makes a turn for the better, area waterways will come alive with boating activity. With the arrival of National Safe Boating Week starting Saturday, it’s a great time to look at how to make your trips on the water as safe as possible.

“With the high water and late spring that we’ve been experiencing,” Capt. Joe Fonzi of Thumbs Up Charters said, “there's an excessive amount of debris out there, including a lot of wood pieces, trees and docks. Remember that boats don't have brakes or sharp turning radiuses, so you have to slow down when you are on the water.”

May and June are great times for fishing, and you need to be aware when on the water. Not everything is always as it seems, either.

“Big trees tend to float vertically with only a small portion being visible," Fonzi said. "A small chop on the water makes those obstacles very hard to see. Slow down and keep your eyes on the water.”

Jim Evarts at The Boat Doctors in Olcott agrees. There is a large amount of floating debris in Lake Ontario primarily due to higher water levels on the lake.

“With water reaching up to higher levels,” Evarts said, “more obstacles will be drawn into the water from the shoreline. And with the elevated water, piers and docks may be submerged along the shoreline.”

Take note that the piers that extend into the lake at Wilson and Olcott could be safety hazards if inclement conditions arise.

A boat should have proper safety equipment, too. Fran Brobeil at Brobeil Marine in Buffalo emphasized the importance of the required boat equipment such as life jackets, anchors, safety flag and flares.

"Make sure that the flares are not outdated,” Brobeil said. “And if you ever run your boat at night, make sure your lights are working properly.”

From the mechanical side of things, you should check fuel lines and fuel connectors to make sure there are no leaks.

“We see that all the time with outboard motor fuel tanks,” says Brobeil. “Make sure your battery terminals are tight, too.”

Evarts said that it’s a good idea to make sure pumps, blowers, motor and drives are working properly. Ropes are important pieces of equipment that should be properly maintained.

According to Scott Croft with Boat U.S., the commonsense things for safe boating is to wear a life jacket, avoid alcohol and take a safe boating course.

“Be on the lookout for smaller crafts,” Croft said. “According to the U.S. Coast Guard, operator inattention and improper lookout are at the top of the list for contributing factors to accidents.”

With the increase in kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders and canoers, it is important to watch for these smaller watercrafts while boating and be cognizant of your wake.

“Boaters should consider learning and using the S.C.A.N. method to help you safely navigate around paddlers and other traffic on the water – Search, Concentrate, Analyze and Negotiate. Not everyone understands the rules of the road when it comes to water travel.”

It's important to practice rescuing yourself while using a kayak or canoe with a group of others to prepare for the worst scenarios. (Photo by Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder)

On the flip side, these smaller personal non-motorized vessel users should make efforts to ensure that they make themselves visible to boaters. “Wear bright clothing and throw up a flag off the back of your vessel so people can see you, especially when there are waves in a larger body of water,” said Roberto Briones of Jackson Kayak. “Always use sun protection and dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Stay hydrated.”

Joel Spring of Ransomville, author of The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing, has loads of tips for keeping safe on the water.

“When you are headed out on the water, always let people know where you are going,” Spring wrote.

Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder with Seabirds International (https://seabirds.co/) is a big proponent of safety on the water.

“Boat smart from the start,” she said. “Wear your life jacket at all times. You can’t put it on if you are knocked unconscious. Experiment by trying to put your life jacket on while in the water with friends. Practice capsizing and rescuing each other. Know your limits.”

Vaillancourt-Alder's  group will host free demonstration day with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary on June 16 at the Naval Park in Buffalo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Coast guard and American Canoe Association instructors will be available to chat about paddling needs.

Taking a boating safety course can teach how to learn everything needed when it comes to safety on the water. If you were born after May 1, 1996, you are required to successfully complete an approved boater education course in order to operate a motorboat in the state. To operate a personal watercraft like a jet ski, everyone must take the course. People under 10 years of age may not operate a boat alone. Students must be at least 10 years of age to operate a boat alone.

The next About Boating Safety Class will take place Saturday at the Fort Niagara Officer’s Club in Youngstown from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You must pre-register. Call Marty at 390-7727. Many classes are conducted through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Online courses are available, but they are a bit more expensive. Find out more at www.boaterexam.com. There also is a Paddle Sports Safety Course.

National Safe Boating Week is May 18-24, a perfect time to draw attention to some of the potential hazards on the water and re-evaluate your approach to boating to stay safe. (Photo by Bill Hilts Jr.)

National Fishing and Boating Week will be celebrated June 1-9 this year, emphasizing the family values and stress relief that both activities can offer people. For more information, visit www.takemefishing.org.

New boat owners and anyone new to boating can learn some of the basics or brush up on their skills by attending on-water boating courses in Rochester at the Fleet Boat Club on June 8. The sessions last 3 hours and the fee is $129 per person. Introduction to Boating will cover important items like shifting and steering, basic docking, open water handling and basic navigation. The course is offered at 10:15 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 10:45 a.m.; 2:15 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.

The ladies-only Women Making Waves course offers the same type of curriculum in a supportive environment. Times are 10:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Sign up at www.boatus.org/On-Water.

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