As summer boating season kicks into high gear, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officials are reminding boaters to slow down in no wake zones on local waterways, including on Hilton Head Island's Broad Creek and two new zones along the May River in Old Town Bluffton.
The new May River zones surround the Oyster Factory Park Boat Landing on Wharf Street and the town's public dock at the end of Calhoun Street.
On Friday, DNR law enforcement division officers Tara Donahue and Adam Henderson — along with spokesman David Lucas — took a photographer along as they patrolled the Broad Creek and May River zones.
"Some people don't understand what exactly a wake zone is and what constitutes no wake," said Henderson.
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"In the water, a no wake sign is the equivalent of a speed limit sign on the road," said Lucas. They're designed to promote safety in congested areas such as Broad Creek and to keep structures along the shore, like docks, from being damaged. by wakes
When entering a no wake zone, boaters are expected to slow to just above idle speed, said Henderson. Usually, that can be done by using a throttle setting known as "clutch forward." Officially defined as “the minimum speed to maintain steerage,” it's a speed that is fast enough to allow boaters to maintain safe control and forward progress, but slow enough that the vessel leaves no white water in its wake.
"You should be able to go through the no wake zone with no wave behind you ... it should be flat," said Donahue. "So long as you look back and there's not white behind you, it's no wake."
"A lot of people are making an honest effort," to obey said Henderson, but are still going too fast.
Consequently, a good portion of the two officers' patrol time is spent trying to educate boaters about no wake zones, which are marked with signs in Broad Creek, and buoys in the May River.
The no-wake zones in the May River extend from the shore to create an approximately 75-yard buffer around the Oyster Factory landing, and an approximately 50-yard buffer around the town's public dock on Calhoun Street.
The May River zones are semicircular and do not extend across the river. Boaters can pass them at higher speeds in the middle and far side of the river, if conditions allow.
Hilton Head's busy Broad Creek, on the other hand, is entirely a no wake zone from end to end. The only exception is in a small portion of the creek from just north of the Cross Island Parkway Bridge to near Broad Creek Marina.
On Friday, Donahue and Henderson pointed out a number of boats which, though going slowly, were still generating a wake in Broad Creek. They stopped one and warned its driver to slow down. They also yelled across the water to ask another boater to slow down.
Neither boater was issued a ticket.
"You can and will get a ticket if you're operating unsafely," Lucas said, and the fine for violating a no wake zone ranges from $50 to $100, plus court costs — but officers will often just issue warnings.
On a recent weekend, officers talked to 40 boaters, but only issued two tickets according to Lucas. In the other stops, officers talked to boaters about how to operate more safely, and gave only verbal warnings or warning tickets.
Donahue said that DNR officers would be at area boat landings starting Saturday to hand out pamphlets with a checklist of safety recommendations.
"At the end of the day, you want people to come home safe," Lucas said.