The Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council is an advocacy organization whose mission is to improve the safety practices and results on and around the waters of Smith Mountain Lake. The following is a compilation of tips to ensure a summer of safe boating and swimming.
Take a boating safety class. All personal watercraft and boat operators must complete a NASBLA-certified boater education course. Virginia law requires that any person, regardless of age must comply. Educated and aware boaters are safer boaters.
There are two courses offered this month:
- June 15 is the U.S. Power Squadron's America's Boating Course, which provides information on basic boating, safety, rules of the road and safety requirements. The fee is $38 and includes a 270-page manual. The class is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the SML Water Treatment Facility, 1500 Radford Church Road, Moneta. To register, visit register-ed.com/events/view/138719. For questions, contact Randy Stow at 540-588-0270.
- June 29 is the Boat Virginia course that covers basic boating safe operations and legal requirements. This course is free and runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Resurrection Catholic Church, 15353 Moneta Road, Moneta. All materials are provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. To register, visit register-ed.com/events/view/141862. For questions, contact Randy Stow at 540-588-0270.
Know the rules of the road. Boats being overtaken and boats ahead crossing from the starboard quarter (right front) have the right of way. When it’s dark, foggy or raining, you should reduce your speed and use running lights. Keep to the right in channels, leave plenty of space when overtaking and don’t fall in line with boats that are towing skiers or tubers.
Be equipped. Whether heading out on the water for a day or for an hour, take along a fully-charged phone, a phone charger, a lake map, sunscreen and sufficient hydration for everyone aboard. It’s always important to be prepared, just in case!
Maintain a proper lookout. This tip is so important that it’s stated in both the International and Inland Rules of Navigation. Just as in driving, operator distraction is a major contributor to boating incidents. If your boat has an attentive lookout, you have a chance of avoiding a collision with a boat that doesn’t. Every operator is obligated to take action to avoid a collision with another boat. Scan the waterway, anticipate potential dangers, clearly indicate your intended course and stay clear of other vessels, obstacles, navigation aids, docks and swimmers. Skippers of bow-riders should make sure passengers riding forward don’t block their view ahead.
Understand and maintain your boat and equipment. Arrange for a vessel safety check of equipment and systems every year by a member of the U.S. Power Squadron or U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Your inspector will review key safe boating reminders with the skipper and crew. Schedules of organized inspection events can be found at area marinas. You also can visit cgaux.org to arrange a boat or personal watercraft inspection nearby or at your own dock. It’s free and it can provide you with peace of mind.
Follow the rules. Never allow passengers to ride on the gunwales, seat backs or outside of protective railings, including the front of a pontoon boat. A sudden turn, stop or start could cause a fall overboard. After leaving a boat launch or marina, maintain a slow, no-wake speed for a safe and legal distance. Learn and follow the navigation rules.
Create and maintain trim. On paddleboards, canoes and kayaks, it’s important to distribute weight evenly for level floating, both fore and aft and port to starboard. This requires proper placement of people and items aboard for optimum balance. Power boats also should be trimmed, which involves seating passengers evenly side-to-side and more forward than aft, which minimizes loss of visibility as a boat comes on plane. Strategic observer placement and use of motor trim and/or trim tabs also helps keep the bow down when pulling skiers out of the water. Boaters should keep their craft level … and remain level headed, too.
Be alert for floating debris. Boaters who encounter debris that could be a hazard to other boaters should tow the debris to undeveloped shoreline, secure it if possible and report the location to Appalachian Power Company at www.smithmtn.com or 1-800-956-4237. Appalachian routinely removes debris from Smith Mountain and Leesville lakes from April through October, and as needed at other times during the year. Debris in the lake is most likely to occur after heavy rains.
Never swim without a partner. Whether from shore, off the dock or off the boat, use the buddy system to ensure someone is paying attention to every swimmer. And designate a responsible adult to watch youth swimmers at all times. Don’t just presume someone will take on that role.
Wear a life jacket when working around docks. During the boating season, many people find themselves around a dock. Consider wearing a life jacket when loading, unloading or working on or around a boat. A fall from more than 6 feet can be life threatening. A fall that includes a head injury and submersion in water can be catastrophic, according to the American Red Cross. Make sure children wear life jackets on docks, in boats and around the water.
Wear the prescribed life jacket correctly. The U.S. Coast Guard designates use of life jackets based on weight and chest size and sometimes age. Equipment should be sized and worn correctly with all straps connected. Children should have the lower crotch strap between their legs connected on their life jacket. It is important to realize that without this strap children could slide out of their jacket. Falling from a dock or boat significantly increases the pressure and chances of the life jacket separating from a child.