How To…Avoid Getting Run Over By a Boat

Making sure the bigger boats know you’re there

By Jeff Chandler

As tempting as strapping road flares to the bow of your boat may be, there are a few more practical (and subtle) tips to remember when sharing the water with motorboats.  Following several tragic collisions between paddlers and powerboat operators, Bart Eckhardt and his team from Robson Forensics conducted a study with the aim of finding ways to help boaters prevent future collisions.

The team’s investigation focused mainly on paddlers’ visibility to a lookout on an approaching powerboat.  As long as the crew member of the powerboat is doing their part to pay attention to the water in front of them, which of course can only be hoped for, never assumed, there are several precautions paddlers can take to improve their chances of being noticed.

1) Staying close to the shore of any body of water can help in several ways.  According to the team’s findings, paddlers backed by the dark contrast of land stood out and were recognized much sooner than those positioned in the middle of a lake or channel.  Powerboat speed is also more likely to decrease close to shore outside of main boating channels.

The exception to this suggestion occurs around river bends, peninsulas, or any other obstruction that reveals boaters suddenly.  Here, it is important to 2) keep your boat within the best sightlines of all oncoming traffic by taking wide turns around corners to allow time for recognition and maneuverability on the part of the powerboat.  Also, when making a crossing from one shore to another, either on a lake or across a river, it is important to do so at a point where there is enough visibility in both directions to provide time to be noticed by motorized boat traffic.

Robson Forensics also identified signals that paddlers can use to make their presence known earlier and give the powerboat more time to respond.  Results from the experiment showed that the sun reflecting off of a wet paddle blade was by far the first identifiable sign of a paddler in the water at a distance.  Therefore, when coming upon the path of a boat under power, it is a good idea to 3) wave your paddle in the air several times to establish your presence. Brightly colored equipment such as lifejackets, shirts, and actual boat color can also make a difference.  In weather conditions that decrease visibility, such as rain or early morning fog, you can also use 4) audible signals like whistles that can help catch the attention of the powerboat operator.

The full study was presented at the Marine Forensics Symposium early this April.  For more information, click HERE.

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  • Ron Barton

    Why not take a tip from bicyclists: attach a white LED light to the bow and/or stern of your kayak. Bicyclists in our area have one that flashes an intense white light that is visible for several hundred yards and has undoubtably saved many crashes and injuries. It runs on batteries which should last the length of your outing.

    Best wishes,

  • Conrad Ashton

    Paddles with white blades are the most visible,and no, they are not obscured by breaking waves!

  • Tim schramm

    As I paddle routinely on a popular boating lake this is a area i can offer sound advice.
    Keep your eyes and EARS open. You will hear a boat approaching far sooner than you can see one. Especially if the area your in has multiple channels and coves. Keep your head up.Boaters especially those that are towing skiers and tubers can turn suddenly.Making sure that they see you is essential.While strobes can be beneficial as a secondary lighting system to the night lighting required by law { and common sense} I would be hesitant to recommend this for day usage because the strobe could be lost in the glare off the waters surface. A bright colored paddle with some thin reflective aluminum tape strips has served me well. Always take charge of being seen,don’t assume,Watch the boat, subtle changes in speed and direction will tell you if you’ve been seen or not. Carry an air horn, I’ve never used mine[ other than a short blast to be sure it works]the louder the better.I have never had even a close call following these simple rules hope this helps..Happy paddling

  • sniper74

    What about using something metal as well to help larger ships with radar to spot you on their scope as well?

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