Sep 3, 2010

Boating laws apply to wakes

This is a letter to the editor from a former member of Sebago Canoe Club, who now lives in Florida and is vice commander of Division 4, 7th U.S. Coast Guard District.

"Use caution on local waterways," stated that he and his children were almost swamped by a high-speed boat while they were kayaking on the Indian River. The writer went on to state there was no law relating to wakes outside of a wake-free or manatee zone.

I can relate to this, having paddled Olympic racing canoes and kayaks for the Sebago Canoe Club in Paerdegat Basin and Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn in the 1960s. My children did the same in the late 1980s. While most boat operators were courteous, there were always a few who had no regard for us or our fragile racing boats. Unlike a regular canoe or sea kayak, if we swamped, we were unable to climb back into the Olympic flat-water kayak or canoe without risking cracking the hull, gunwale or combing.

Fortunately, there are laws relating to the safe operation of a motor vessel. These laws do apply to wakes produced by a boat, regardless if you are in a no-wake zone or open waterway. U.S. Code, Title 46, Section 2302, and Florida Statute 327.33 deal with the reckless or careless operation of a motor vessel. Law enforcement agencies have successfully applied these laws to wakes produced by passing vessels -- where a wake caused an injury, damage to another vessel, someone falling overboard, or caused the swamping of another boat. Depending on the circumstances, it could either be reckless operation -- a misdemeanor, or careless operation -- a non-criminal infraction.

All vessel operators are urged to be cognizant of their wakes, particularly when passing smaller, human-powered vessels. Remember, operators of motor vessels are responsible for their own wake at all times.

Editor's note: Sorrentino is vice commander of Division 4, Daytona Beach, 7th U.S. Coast Guard District.

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