Cast & Blast

How to survive boating on Lowcountry waterways overrun with beer-guzzling yahoos

I few things happened this past week that prompted me to sit down and write what has become yet another annual boating safety rant.

For experienced boaters, this may bore the tar out of you. But for all you new boat owners, you should read what I have to say because one day it may just save your life.

You may or may not know that I part-time guide people on their boats. From learning basic boating skills, navigation and, my favorite, how to fish our waters, I get a real sense of satisfaction when, for the first time, I open a novice boater’s eyes to just how special our waters are and at the same time, get them to realize that Mother Nature can take them in a heartbeat if they ignore her warnings or disregard her unlimited power.

As much as I try to avoid guiding on weekends, especially during the summer months, there are times when that option is out of the question. Usually it is because the people are here from out of town for the weekend, or work schedules won’t allow playing hooky on a weekday.

This past Saturday was one of those scenarios as one of my regulars came into town with guests and asked me to ride along as they wanted to learn the way to Beaufort by water for lunch, shopping and, if time allowed, give them a narrated tour of a portion of the historical district.

From the moment we pulled away from the dock it was as if we were on a highway with nothing but drunk drivers.

Boats cut right in front of us, while others cruised along at the worst speed possible, creating wakes that might swamp a smaller boat. Worst of all were boats full of beer-guzzling yahoos that at full throttle would ride right up our wake and at the last possible moment veer off to go around us.

During all this mayhem I was instructing the boat owner, who was at the helm, about what to do in each instance and how eyes in the back of your head would be a great evolutionary addition to the human form.

Over and over when I guide, I watch my students before saying anything and it always amazes me how many never think to look behind them to see if another boat or Jet Ski is there. This is especially spooky when you are up and running and decide to slow down quickly for a bridge or some poor stand-up paddle boarders who would be thrown off by our wake had we blown past them.

In this case, should a boat be flying up your wake and you pull back the throttles, they would end up in the cockpit with you.

Tourists on Jet Skis are particularly notorious for never looking behind, or for that matter, any direction other than straight ahead. I have had Jet Skis turn suddenly and, on more than one occasion, go right under my bow as I am cruising along at 40 mph. My heart doesn’t stop beating out of my chest for a good hour after one of these encounters.

Then on Monday while fishing for sheepshead, I was tied up alongside a dock’s pilings. Boats pulling people on tubes as well as other boats obviously saw me but instead of slowing down to a crawl as they passed by, they seemed totally oblivious, flying by me not 20 yards away in a wide creek equally as deep on the far side.

Over and over I was smashed against the barnacle-covered pilings.

Boating etiquette was non-existent.

When you see small boats up against a dock or shoreline fishing, or even kayaks and paddleboards, imagine you were on that watercraft. Pull back your throttles and ease by them.

Even then, look behind your boat and check the height of your wake. It may cost you a few moments getting to wherever you are going but it is basic courtesy and would tell me you are an educated boater, something that is sorely lacking around here with so many of new boat owners that have little or no experience operating watercraft.

Lastly, because summer days are notorious for severe thunderstorms popping up quickly with winds topping 50 mph, what to do if you get caught in one of these. Believe me when I say I can’t count the times it has happened to me, and from experience, here is what I do.

Whether you are inshore or offshore and get stuck in blinding rain, lightning and near hurricane-force winds, slow down enough to keep forward momentum and head straight into the wind. If lightning is popping around you, lay fishing rods flat on the deck (particularly graphite rods) along with your radio antenna. If you have rubber soled shoes put them on and stay calm.

If offshore and lightning knocks out your electronics, once the storm passes head 300 degrees and you will hit land. You may not land exactly where you want to but dry land is dry land.

There you have my annual boating safety column and if you take only one thing from this it should be to look in all directions all the time, and for God’s sake, be courteous to smaller boats, fishermen and one-man watercraft.

Did I mention docking into the current is the way to go? Oh well, maybe next time …