By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
Pretty often, as accident statistics show, the worst mistakes are made by people who had more than enough experience to know better, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the water. With experience comes complacency and, often, accidents are quick to follow.
Bobby Cleveland, longtime outdoor writer for the Clarion-Ledger and lifelong fishing enthusiast, has seen it all and then some.
Though the waters of the Ross Barnett Reservoir are where he most often wets a line, his avocation has taken him far and wide enough to prove no lake has a lock on stupidity.
Every boater should know the basic rules of safety. Cleveland says these are the ones they most often forget:
Check your wake
“Outside of the obvious, which would be not wearing a personal flotation device, the most overlooked aspects of boating safety are which boat has the right of way, and being responsible for your boat wake,” he says.
“The first thing I tell new boaters is that in all situations involving close proximity, the other boat ALWAYS has the right of way. That’s because I’ve learned that it’s a pretty safe bet the other boat operator doesn’t know the rules.
“Boat wakes are a pet peeve of mine, because in 99 percent of cases, problems related to wakes could have been avoided. Every boater is responsible for his or her wake, but I think most are unaware of the water he or she is kicking up.
“A perfect example of that is Rose’s Bluff at Ross Barnett Reservoir, a popular anchoring area for boats each summer.
“Families park pontoons and pleasure craft in close proximity, to swim and enjoy the group atmosphere. Knowing that, and seeing that, it’s idiotic but routine to see boats race back in the corner or swing up close to the anchored boats and make an abrupt turn. The wake causes parked boats to swing on anchor, and I’ve seen kids get caught between boats and adults racing to keep them safe.
“Also, as a fisherman, I know what it’s like to be working a riprap bank and have a boat race by, improperly trimmed, and kick up a wake that pushes me into the rocks.”
Do unto others
“Another thing that makes me steam is to be anchored in the middle of the lake, far from boat channels or any port or landing, and have a boat pass within 10 or 20 yards on a 33,000-acre lake,” Cleveland says. “It’s not like a river, where you have little choice.
“It would be just as easy to loop around 200 or 250 yards out, thus not creating any danger that comes with boats in close proximity.
It’s not a written rule but it is a courtesy and it just makes a lot more sense.”
Mind those PWCs
“If I was younger, I’d probably have a jet ski, also referred to as a personal watercraft,” Cleveland says. “I have played on them and they are fun. I recognize that they are a popular choice and that they have every right to share water.
“However, I do have a major problem with some PWC operators, especially those who feel they have to race up behind a boat and jump the wake. The only two boat/PWC collisions I’ve seen involved exactly that. PWC operators need to understand they are required to follow the same navigation rules as conventional watercraft, they need to practice common courtesy.”
Watch for the careless
“It’s important to keep your head on a swivel and know where all other boats around you are located and what they are doing,” Cleveland says. “If you are running in a channel and approaching the area where you plan to stop, it’s important to know if there’s an idiot right on your tail.
“And, in our shallow Southern waters, if you don’t know the lake as well as you know the layout of your house, stay in the boat channel.
“Finally, heed this advice from a guy who has been hit by lightning twice, though not on the water: Always be weather wise. Know what the forecast is. All smart phones now have apps that not only provide GPS but also current weather maps.”