(WROC-TV, Rochester, NY)- Let’s face it: We’ve been through a lot over the last year and a half. Now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, and the weather is warming up, we all want to get outside and enjoy the weather that we patiently (or impatiently) wait for shivering and shoveling our way through winter.
One way Rochesterians enjoy their time outside is through boating. Getting to the point of that first inaugural seasonal venture and out on the open water is, however, a process.
Living in Western New York and the Finger Lakes means more than ample access to one of the nation’s richest supplies of fresh water waterways consisting of two Great Lakes, and eleven Finger Lakes, in addition to the Erie Canal. There are smaller lakes as well including Silver, Waneta, and Lamoka. Clearly, the options are many to those who want to venture out and about and enjoy some outdoor recreation BY the water.
Some choose to go IN the water, specifically, with some kind of watercraft, which is why it’s appropriate that this Monday’s blog has to do with safe boating. This seems particularly top of mind given the taste of summer warmth that’s in the forecast, and because National Safe Boating week is right around the corner.
WHAT TO KNOW
Before you get out into the water, you need to keep in mind a couple of items that are separate from the world of boating maintenance. Just remember the “three W’s”: weather, wind, and waves.
Whether you’re heading to an inland waterway or Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, you need to know the weather conditions that are ahead for the day. For every boater, thunderstorms in the forecast should be a signal to stay close to shore. Thunderstorms can be a boater’s worst nightmare as they produce sudden and strong winds, very heavy rain, and deadly lightning. Even a low-end thunderstorm can cause a boat to capsize.
So should a forecast for dense fog. Dense fog can quickly reduce visibility causing even the most expert boater to become disoriented in their navigation.
To avoid becoming a victim of any dangerous weather condition, know the forecast before you take that boat out onto the open water. Make sure your phone or device is charged and that is set to receive alerts. Also, don’t wait for thunder to roar before heading for shore. The least sign of darkening skies should have you out of the water and somewhere safe on dry land. If a Special Marine Warning is issued, get out of the water immediately, as it means dangerous weather conditions are headed your way in a matter of minutes.
Wind conditions are also important on any body of water but especially are important for those that sail versus those who use a power boat.
Pay close attention to certain terms that may be in the forecast, especially when there are Small Craft Advisories, Gale Warnings, or Storm Warnings issued. If you are an inexperienced boater attempting to sail when winds are in excess of 20 knots, you may run into trouble. This is generally the lower threshold for Small Craft Advisories. More experienced sailors can navigate this caliber of wind speed.
And, yes, definitely stay out of the water during a Gale Warning or a Storm Warning! Here’s a breakdown of terms with which to be familiar.
Waves are particularly challenging to those on the water who are new at boating, but are problematic to any craft, especially those heading out on one of the Great Lakes that are in our backyard. For example, areas at the center of Lake Ontario can see waves as high as 15 or 20 feet! Strong northwest winds near closer to home near the shore tend to produce whitecaps on the water. Those whitecaps will have everyone taking notice while standing on land but they are especially problematic for those on the water.
THE HIDDEN DANGER
The lakes at any time of year may appear quite attractive this time of year especially as the air warms up prompting us to want to get in the water. But just because the air is warm does not mean that the water is also warm. Check out the water temperatures right now on Lake Ontario.
There are parts of the big lake that still have water that’s in the upper 40s! This stands in stark contrast to the 80 degree air in the forecast and can be deceptive! Hypothermia can take place in an hour or less if you find yourself in the water for any reason. Also remember that any sudden entry into cold water can cause sudden changes in your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure levels, which could increase the risk of drowning. That’s just one more reason to make sure you’re always wearing a lifejacket while on the water.
We’re just now into that time of year where sunscreen application becomes more important by the day. The midday May sun angle is a lot different than its April counterpart.
It’s a good idea to apply some level of sunscreen each day but particularly important while on the water. This has to do with the that direct sunlight striking the surface of the water and then reflecting back to you. A very similar setup exists when skiing a snowy surface, except now we’re dealing with a spring and summer sun angle versus a winter one.
Bottom line: Whether you are a novice and inexperienced boater, or a professional with several years of experience, remember, a real boater is a prepared boater, which requires being prepared on all levels. Putting yourself and others in the know about weather conditions before leaving the dock, while out on the water, and your return trip will keep you and those you’re out on the water with this season safe.