Friday, April 1, 2011

Following The Rules of The Water

News to Know
by Amanda Causey

Speeding across the water on skis behind a ski boat…
Riding personal watercrafts (PWC) with your friends…
Simply relaxing on you pontoon in the water…

There’s nothing like it! But please remember – with the enjoyment of recreational boating comes the responsibility to know the nautical rules of the road and boat safety. Many boating accidents and fatalities could be prevented if boaters would use common courtesy. Many collisions could be avoided if the operator paid full attention and avoided risks. Make sure you (and anyone else that may operate your boat or PWC) know what your vessel is capable of doing.

If you ever have any safety concerns or questions about Lake Wedowee the person to speak to is Alabama Marine Police Officer Barry Popham. For the past 23 years he has been with the AMP Division through  the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  After sitting down with Mr. Popham for several hours and talking about Lake Wedowee I learned his main concern is keeping people safe. “People look at the lake like it’s something fun, as it should be. It is my job to make it a safe place to for that.” Of all the topics we discussed, safety was always at the root of each.  Some of Popham’s safety tips can be found on page 33 in “Safety First”.

Prior to our sit down discussion I had heard many people say how difficult Popham was to perceive. I quickly realized those statements were untrue. He is a man well respected by his peers and the community. One of the ways to achieve that kind of respect is by doing the right thing no matter what! He mentioned that writing a ticket or a warning to a friend who is breaking the law on the water is something he will do without hesitation.  He takes his job very seriously, and strives to keep every boater on Lake Wedowee accident free and safe.

The following information is a highlight of our lengthy conversation. We went over laws that are broken most frequently, his major areas of concern,  and how to stay safe and have a good time. Mr. Popham stated “This group of people here around the lake are some of the best around.”  Being a polite boater is one of the “golden rules” on the water. Keep an eye on those in your surrounding areas and ensure you are not interfering in their good time.
One of the most common issues Barry faces is people not following the “rules of the road.” Steer your boat along the same way side of a channel that you would be driving your vehicle.  The larger vessel has the right of way just like with a tractor trailer. Do not cut in front of another boater traveling at a faster pace.

Although cell phone reception is not always the best on the water, Barry suggests having a cell phone with you to be able to report accidents or emergencies. By having a lake map you will posses one of the handiest things in case of an emergency. Mr. Popham informed me that the Lake Wedowee Property Owner’s Association are in the process of putting a marking system along the points of the lake. This new navigation system will be helpful and change the way boaters navigate especially at night.  Keep in mind that if you are going to go on an evening cruise you must have your light system up and running. The state law for navigation lights are they must be on when you are away from your dock between sunset and sunrise or during periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy rain.

There are not too many accidents that occur on Lake Wedowee, but the majority of the ones that do involve younger drivers on Personal Water Crafts (PWC’s). Being young is not the only safety issue with PWC’s, inexperienced boaters who are not familiar with will be less likely to have control over their vessel. In the event that you do have an emergency dial 911. Any operator of a boat involved in an accident causing a death, injury, or damage in excess of $50.00, must, within 10 days, submit an accident report to the Marine Police Division, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on forms provided by Marine Police Officers or the Randolph County Sheriff's Office.

There are no speed limits on the lake, but there are no wake zones stationed in designated areas. These areas are controlled by Popham through the Waterway Marking Program. Whenever there are hazardous areas for boating activities he will place a buoy in the area to warn boaters for standing timber, areas with shallow water, or areas that      require no wake.

“Pay attention to what you are doing and follow the rules of the road.” These are the two most important things for you to be aware of in order to enjoy your time at Lake Wedowee and avoid a chance to meet Barry Popham….. unless you just want to.

For information on obtaining your boaters license on line visit www.outdooralabama.com/boating/


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