Friday, August 03, 2012
Observing no-wake markers is not a choice for boaters.
Photos by SHERESE GORE | Laker Weekly
A speeding fisherman once told William Smith that the buoys at the mouth of his cove were not "Coast-Guard approved," therefore, they did not need to be obeyed.
Speeding boats not only can hurt people, but jeopardize boating equipment, as well.
William Smith's house in Wirtz fronts a bucolic slice of Smith Mountain Lake, a quiet cove ringed by a few neighbors and even fewer boats.
Not so during the weekends and holidays, according to Smith.
"There are lots of kids and grandkids that are around this cove, but many times on weekends and especially on holidays, it's full of kids," he said.
And speeding boats.
Despite the presence of two no-wake buoys at the mouth of his cove, speeding boats routinely ignore the markers, he said. Deciding to take action, Smith assisted a neighbor who is tasked with maintaining the markers in obtaining a third buoy this year.
"We thought that maybe that would alleviate the situation, but it doesn't seem to," said Smith.
Smith is not the only person concerned about boaters' disregard for the regulatory markers.
"The no-wake area around the old Camper's Paradise needs to be expanded," John Zinn wrote in a Facebook post. "With development on both sides of the cove, it has become an extremely dangerous area. Boats fly into the area and there is no physical way to remain 50 feet from docks on either side AND 50 feet from other boats [let alone swimmers]. HELP."
According to Pam Dinkle, lake management and project coordinator of the Tri-County Lake Administrative Committee, there are 50 sets comprised of two to five no-wake buoys on the lake.
While no-wake buoys are not the only regulatory markers that dot the water, the bobbing orange-and-white markers signify one thing only: no-wake speed, which is the slowest possible speed you can travel and still move forward, according to Sgt. Karl Martin of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Daily patrols by VDGIF monitor the lake for violators. Boaters choosing to ignore a no-wake buoy could be charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor, accompanied by fines up to $250.
Sgt. Bryan Young of VDGIF said his officers may detect a dozen no-wake violations in a weekend. The excuses he encounters vary.
"It runs the gamut to, 'I didn't know what the signs meant' to 'I thought I was going slow enough,'" he said.
"The majority [of citations] are for disregarding markers around businesses," said Martin, "where it becomes a real safety issue because of fuel being pumped in the boats."
One such busy location is Bridgewater Plaza near Hales Ford Bridge.
"Something that people need to realize is that they are responsible for their wake," said Roy Enslow, owner of Bridgewater Marina. "If someone is in a no-wake zone and they are exceeding the no-wake speed, ... and that wake causes another boat to slam up against a dock ... the person's that's created that wake is responsible for that damage."
Dinkle suggested that homeowners who are concerned about speeders in their area contact the VDGIF to monitor the situation.
"A lot of people that don't abide by the no-wake guidelines simply aren't aware of what those are," she said. "So that's an opportunity to educate them."
Here's how to go about getting a buoy placed
Gaining authorization to place a buoy can be a lengthy process.
An application, with a fee of $125, must be submitted to the Tri-County Lake Administrative Committee, a joint cooperation between the counties of Franklin, Bedford and Pittsylvania.
Once an application is received by TLAC, the document is reviewed by TLAC's Navigation Committee to determine if there is a need for placement. A public hearing is then held to allow the applicant and interested parties to voice questions or concerns.
Following the public hearing, TLAC forwards the application to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with its recommendation.
VDGIF will review the application and make its recommendations or decision and forwards the application for final approval by the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal agency with jurisdiction over Smith Mountain Lake. Thomas Merriman of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary said that once a marker is approved by VDGIF, it's usually approved by the Coast Guard as a "courtesy."
Once authorization is given, applicants are responsible for the installation and the maintenance of their own buoys, which can be a costly endeavor. According to Sgt. Karl Martin of VDGIF depending on the depth of the lake and the materials needed, some contractors may charge up to $1,000 to place a buoy.
"You can buy one and install [it] without authorization, but obviously, that's illegal," he said.
While no-wake buoys are relatively easy objects to purchase, circumventing the bureaucratic process can be a risky prospect. VDGIF officials perform annual inspections of the lake to ensure proper maintenance of buoys and to locate illegal placements.
"There are people that would like to see a restricted area in an area that they live," said Martin. "And that's not always necessary because there is a relatively new law that makes it illegal to operate in anything other than idle speed within 50 feet of docks or shorelines."