Navigation Rules

Uncle Joe’s REAL Rules of the Nautical Road

Distilled from years of rowing on Lake Otsego and San Francisco Bay.
1. Listen when you row: But not to music on earbuds; listen for the sounds ahead of your boat and behind your back- motors, swimming noises, anything unusual.
2. Wear really bright colors – and a mirror: You don’t have to read a boat’s name or registration number in the mirror or determine what tree the log floating ahead of you came from, you just have to know they’re there. Adjust the mirror to show only the outside rim of whichever ear you choose, then get used to wearing that mirror and learn to recognize the landmarks ahead of your boat – but behind your back – in your mirror. This takes a while, but it’s safer than no mirror.
3. Powerboats:  Particularly on a lake in the summer, always presume that a powerboat operator does not know what he/she is doing. Some, maybe many, do know; but don’t count on it. A powerboat pulling a water-skier will reverse course at high speed without looking when a skier falls. Fishermen trolling are very quiet and hate to change course.
4. Sailboats:  Are not much better. The sailing instructor told them sail has the right of way and they behave often as though they believe the instructor. There are lots of little rules and exceptions, in the Inland Rules of the Road, and among rowers and sailors in local bays and estuaries. Don’t count on any of them and treat every sailboat as unpredictable.
5. Wakes: Watch the boats that make waves, then watch the wakes as those short, sharp waves get closer. Maneuver to take a wake head or stern on, whichever comes quickest. A 45-degree angle, bow or stern, also works better than presenting your shell’s side to a wake. It is worth the effort of vigilance and maneuvering. Drier rows result.
6. Swimmers: Watch out near shore and frequently used areas, such as Ferry Spring!
7. When in doubt, stop and wave your – hopefully hi-viz – arms. Or – if you’re close to shore – head for the shallows. If the operator is awake and semi-sober a powerboat usually won’t follow into water that will float a shell.
Always maneuver to avoid, as the formal Rules of the Road put it.
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