Boating Safety and Etiquette

By Adam Fields

As a water sports professional and coach with a global reach within wakeboarding, I frequently get asked to be a voice for safety concerns and etiquette. Last year I wrote a post that went viral online, both at our lake (Gaston) and at others, pertaining to all types of boats and boating interests. As we near the summer season, it is time to share that information again.

My goal is to include perspectives from various boaters and property owners in such a way that we all understand each other and become nicer, more courteous boaters. We all share the use of our lakes and rivers, but often still have our issues with other folks out there. I’m not bashing. It’s not a battle of interests. Instead, this is an effort to reach and connect with all people, to inform, and to grow awareness and courtesy.

My business, AF Wake, Inc. offers boat driving instruction for all types of boats. We and the leading watersports organizations are working on and off the water to ensure the safety and livelihood of these activities we so love.

We want to reach as many people as possible with this information. It’s not just “Adam’s message.” A lot of what follows comes from the Water Sports Industry Association’s Global “Wake Responsibly” initiative, backed by the United States Coast Guard.

Wake surfing is now the most popular water sport in the US, and as part of a gigantic watersports industry, we’d hate to see it get shut down for everyone because of a small number of inconsiderate (often accidentally so) surfers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for being as cool and understanding as possible. It’s going to be a great, fun summer. Can’t wait!

Calm Waters

Waterskiing and advanced wakeboarding require calmer water for safety and enjoyment. As a multi-time world champion and coach of champions, I caution that we literally cannot do what we are trying to do if the water is too rough. And, that’s how you get hurt. When you tell us to go away and ride out into the middle of the lake, that really isn’t a doable option 95 percent of the time. We need it to be calm.

We encourage all wakeboarders and skiers to get up early and get out there and use the main lake and open space early, before the wind and boat traffic pick up. That’s a great time to ride, and the main lake is the best because you don’t have to turn the boat as much, like you have to in the creeks. Then, too, the residents can enjoy their peace in the mornings before it gets packed in their creeks.

Wakesurfers

When at all possible, wakesurf away from everyone; ideally in the main lake instead of in the tighter spaces like creeks. Some people hate the waves you are making. You will also be and feel safer if you are further away from other boats instead of in the higher trafficked, tighter spaces. Even if it is a little rougher out in the main lake, you’ll be better off all-around. You’ll be in deeper water, which helps your surf wave, and you’ll be less likely to get run over between falls.

Tubing & Tube Drivers

Your boat patterns are erratic and confusing to other boaters. Also, your riders are typically seeking waves to bounce through. If you’re driving a wild boat pattern to whip the rider, or are looking for waves to launch off of, get out of the tight spaces where others want it calmer. You ruin it for the skiers and wakeboarders who want it calm. Please share the lake so everyone isn’t as jammed up in the creeks.

Sightseers

We understand you want to see as many houses as you can while you also get a good look at the details. It’s easier to see the beautiful homes when you drop the speed on your deck boats and bow riders down to 10-14 mph, but that’s the same speed at which your boat makes the biggest waves.

While you’re driving by admiring someone’s home, you are often swamping their dock and shoreline as you pass by. Be aware of the wake you are making and where it is going so you don’t accidentally appear to be disrespectful.

Fishermen

I’m trying to help you here. Bear with me. You scare people when you rip through a tight space. Please be aware of that fear factor and know that it is why people fuss about your boats. Keep it chill and be extra careful. You’d hate to whip around a corner going fast and a fallen child wakeboarder be in the water right in front of you, knowing you cannot steer those boats well at high speeds. That could quickly be a scary -- if not deadly -- situation. I have witnessed two people being run over by boats. It was horrific both times.

Fishermen, you are actually the foolish ones and owed no apology when you slam into a big sightseer’s wave or a wakeboarder/wakesurfer’s wave at high speed and smack your boat. Being observant and aptly driving your boat to take the wave appropriately will save you a lot of aggravation. Look ahead and mind your speed when approaching a massive wave. It’s better for your boat, too, to take that wave a certain way.

If you do post up in the middle of the creek, and someone drives around between you and the shore...um, well, that’s about their only option. Essentially, don’t block a space and then be angry when someone drives around you. Also, the way wave-building works, if a boat drives around you, the kink that it builds in the wave will be largest and most disturbing where you park. Please share the space well, and in turn you will help yourself not get rocked as much.

And now to surfers. Don’t be in there in the first place or space out once you see what’s going on. Wakeboarders, once you go by once or twice and realize a fisherman is there, keep moving on to a new spot so you aren’t making repetitive passes by the person who is trying to fish. Please share the space while you both seek the calmest water.

Pontoon Boaters

Be aware of balancing your boat left to right and front to back. Be careful not to put all of your largest passengers in the front and consequently ride bow-heavy. It makes for quite an aggravating mess when you’re front-weighted and you smack into a wakesurfing wave. If people are sharing the space and driving well enough, it’s possible to easily pass that (angry voice) “massive surf wave!” In my opinion, it is not the big wake-maker’s fault if you see a massive wave and drive right into it with all your weight in the front and then nearly sink your boat while wetting all your passengers and iPhones.

Kayakers & Stand-Up Paddle Boarders

If you’re worried about safety on your people-powered crafts, go during the calmest and least trafficked hours -- and stick close to the shorelines. Go where other boats can’t. Don’t be out in the middle and then get angry when a boat drives by you.

Jet Skiers

You are the scariest of all. You scare other boaters, skiers, surfers, boarders, moms, dads, kids, etc. Please stay further away from other boats and people in tight spaces. Please keep your speed down in tight spaces. It is much too easy to accidentally zip up on someone or something in the water and create a dangerous situation. It only takes an instant.

In addition, the wakeboarders and skiers and surfers prefer great water. You zipping around near us not only scares us, but also ruins the water conditions for us to do what we are out there to do. You are like annoying, disrespectful mosquitos that are killing our great vibes. Please share the space and keep our safety and enjoyment in mind.

Amazing Sound Systems

I’m as pumped as anyone to jam tunes on a boat. It stokes the vibe, pumps me up when I wakeboard/wakesurf, and adds a nice ambiance on those pontoon cruises to the restaurants for dinner. Unfortunately, getting the sound to the right volume over a boat motor naturally brings the volume up pretty high. Do what you can to use both consideration and moderation while you ride, surf, or party on the boat. The sound carries far over water. Pace yourself and be courteous about the words that may be heard around the lake.

This also goes for telling secrets over the boat motor on the way home from the restaurant. I’ve heard some wild stories from boaters while I was chilling on my dock and porch. They have no idea I can even hear them. If people can hear voices, then they can surely hear your jams.

If you need a fix for tunes while surfing or wakeboarding, get up with me and I’ll get you squared away with a sweet life jacket with a built-in Bluetooth speaker by SoGnar Sounds. You’ll hear your jams better and not have to constantly nag the driver about the volume, and your lake neighbors can enjoy the music or conversation -- or peace and quiet -- they were enjoying before you came by blasting gangster rap and then ran repetitive passes with massive wakes right in front of their dock, over and over again.

Be Safe and Courteous

Any of these scenarios could happen in the main lake or in a creek or other tighter space. So, regardless of where you are, try to drive observantly and conscientiously. Many homeowners are more on edge about the waves than ever before. Let’s all try to work together so everyone has a good time, feels safe, and gets to enjoy whatever they like to do on the water.

Thank you for reading this, for passing this along to your lake neighbors and friends, and for trying to hear and help all sides. Also, please send us those oblivious, kook wakeboard/surf boat owners who are driving terribly and we’ll get them straight with our coaching.


AF WAKE, INC
(252) 536-9063
www.afwake.com
adamfields@afwake.com

Learn more about who I am and my business via my website, www.afwake.com, which has resource links to the global water sports organizations and other cool useful information. To get the kids excited, have them look me up (Adam Fields, AF Wake) on their phones or do a Google search. Come see us and join in on the fun. Share this article with your lake neighbors to encourage the goodwill we can all share.

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