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.