Paying attention to boater safety

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 22, 2014

With the weather warming up, residents in Rowan County and surrounding areas will no doubt start flocking to the water. Here, that means High Rock Lake.
Rowan is fortunate to have a lake that’s accessible for boating, fishing and swimming. That also goes for Davidson County, which contains part of High Rock.
With that good fortune comes the responsibility to know how to enjoy the lake safely, and to take the necessary measures to do just that.
Covering 15,180 acres and 365 miles of shoreline in the two counties, High Rock has multiple agencies enforcing laws and looking out for the well-being of people and wildlife.
But those agencies can’t be everywhere at once, and they can’t account for the actions of everyone on the lake. That point was driven home in a horrific way on May 25, 2013, when a ski boat operator who was distracted slammed into a pontoon boat carrying a family on a Memorial Day weekend outing.
A pregnant woman, her unborn child and her 3-year-old son who were aboard the pontoon boat died. The ski boat operator was charged with manslaughter.
It could all have been easily prevented. “This incident occurred as a result of operator inattention,” Sgt. Tony Sharum, a state Wildlife Resources officer who patrols High Rock, said recently.
“Operator inattention” has been cited as the leading cause of boating accidents statewide in five of the past six years, Elizabeth Roy reported in a Salisbury Post article last week. Inattention. That’s it. Just people at the helm not focusing on the task at hand.
On High Rock, it’s even more imperative for boaters to be aware of what they’re doing and where they’re going than on other lakes. The first in a chain of reservoirs in the Yadkin hydroelectric project, High Rock is a catch basin for all sorts of debris from upriver. And it’s a muddy body of water, making it difficult, if not impossible, to see much of what’s below the surface.
The state is doing what it can to make boating safer by tightening regulations on operator certification and safety gear and requiring passengers younger than 13 to wear flotation devices when the boat is in motion. But regulations can only go so far in protecting people on the water. It’s up to the people on the water, particularly those operating boats, to take responsibility for protecting themselves and others.
With another Memorial Day coming up — and a summer full of weekends when the lake will be teeming with boaters — that attention to personal responsibility may be all that stands between family fun and another tragedy.