By DAVID BORAKS
MOORESVILLE – Law enforcement officials and Lake Norman Marine Commission members say boating on the lake appears safer this summer – or in the words of one commissioner, “saner.” And they think that’s in part due to better education and awareness among boaters as well as widespread media reports about enforcement. And officials are intrigued by another new development: more “designated drivers” on the lake.
“What I’m hearing from law enforcement, pretty much what I’m told is that we’re having a saner lake this year,” chairman Ron Shoultz told fellow marine commissioners at their monthly meeting Monday night. “It seems like some of the crazy activities have slowed down a bit.”
Statistics appear to support that perception. Sgt. Jeremy Harrill of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission told the marine commission that at mid-year, only 6 serious boating accidents had been reported on Lake Norman. (A serious accident is defined as one with serious injury, death or disappearance and property damage more than $2,000.) That compares to 17 all of last year on the lake.
Those accidents included only death so far this year, and that wasn’t the result of a boat accident or alcohol. In that March 18 incident, a Mooresville fisherman apparently collapsed, struck his head, and fell out of his boat near the Davidson College lake campus, off Langtree Road.
Lake law enforcement officials say there seems to be increased awareness of the dangers of boating and drinking. Brandon Styers of the Lincoln County Lake Patrol told the commission he and his colleagues are seeing an increase in designated drivers.
In some cases, lake party-goers are even hiring designated drivers, according to Sgt. Harrill. “People tell me they are paying people to drive. They want to be responsible,” he said.
So far this year, N.C. Wildlife officers have made 54 arrests on the lake for operating while impaired, Sgt. Harrill. He didn’t have statistics to compare that to previous years, but he believes it’s an improvement. Mr. Shoultz said he has heard the number is lower this year.
Sgt. Harrill agreed with Mr. Shoultz that the lake is “saner,” for a variety of reasons.
“For one, the overall boat activity has been lighter,” he said. That may be due to the hot weather recently as well as the economy. “When things are tough, and they have been for a few years, boats are extra items and (boats) are the first things to go when you’re trying to budget.”
He also said media attention to bad accidents and boater education also are helping. “There have been so many stories about boat safety and the dangers of impaired operation. And you know, in the past say 4 or 5 years here, there’ve been a lot of pretty high-profile boating accidents. … When people see that, I think it just sticks with them a while,” Sgt. Harrill said.
Lake patrols have been increased this year, especially around the major holidays, and that increased visibility seems to be helping, law enforcement officials said Monday. And the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has begun on-shore pre-launch inspections aimed at spotting problems before boats hit the water. That has turned up everything from registration problems to an inadequate number of flotation devices. Also, State patrol officers have set up these inspection stations at many launch areas. It’s a good deal for boaters – you don’t get a ticket for a violation if you’re not on the water yet, Sgt. Harrill said.
Meanwhile, he and Mr. Shoultz believe a two-year-old state law requiring boaters under age 26 to take a boating safety course is also having a positive effect.
“I live on the lake, and I’m on it all the time, and it seems that people are more aware of basic boating fundamentals,” said Mr. Shoultz, who lives at Meck Neck, at the end of Brawley School Road. “Part of it is the boater education. The young crowd’s gotta take (the course). And more and more people are taking an active role in trying to make this a better lake, and that’s a wonderful thing from my perspective. And quite frankly, that’s my mission on the marine commission … to make this a better lake for everyone. … Everyone gets to use, obey the rules, have fun.”
BOATER EDUCATION CLASS
Speaking of education, boaters have another chance to bone up on their boating knowledge and safety skills coming up this weekend. The Lake Norman Sail & Power Squadron presents a safe boating course, required for boat operators in N.C. under age 26, this Saturday, July 14, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, 19600 Zion Street, Cornelius.
The course includes info on state laws, water safety, radio operation, navigation, and emergencies. Registration is $40 for first family member, $20 for additional. You can register online here: http://www.usps.org/lakenorman/registration_abc_fillin.htm Russ Klein of the Sail & Power Squadron said Monday that there are plenty of spaces remaining.
IS THAT DECAL FADING?
At Monday night’s Lake Norman Marine Commission meeting, Sgt. Harrill reported problems with the state’s vessel registration decals this year: They’re fading. Sgt. Harrill said the problem may be with the ink used by the outside vendor. Anyhow, if this applies to the decal on your boat, you can get a replacement from the vendor. If you’ve received a defective vessel decal, call toll-free 1-800-628-3773 weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and request a free replacement.
Sgt. Harrill also brought up another issue: With so many different county and local patrols now on the lake, some boaters are getting stopped and inspected more often. So officials are talking about a possible solution: Boat-check cards that prove your boat has already been inspected.
“There’s no way of telling if this boat’s been stopped or that boat’s been stopped,” Sgt. Harrill told marine commissioners Monday. “We’ve got boat check cards. If we stopped you already, you can show the card and it will speed up the process.”
BOAT RENTAL RULES UPDATE
Marine Commissioner John Marino gave a brief update on a commission subcommittee studying possible new rules for people who rent boats on Lake Norman. He said the subcommittee, which includes the owners of boat rental companies, has been through several drafts of a new policy and is continuing to work.
The committee started working on the proposed rules last year after a serious accident in which a boater backed over a woman swimming near his boat. She ended up losing an arm in the incident, and has since sued both the boat operator and the rental company.
Commission chair Ron Shoultz acknowledged there have been “snags” that have held up the proposed rules. “We need to do this in an orderly fashion,” he explained. “We need to make sure we don’t do something that’s not enforceable … someting our lawyers will allow.”
Mr. Shoultz said he hopes the subcommittee will have a proposal ready for the commission to vote on in time for the start of the next boating season in 2013.
April 10, 2012, “Commission updated on rental rules, start of boating season”
March 19, 2012, “Body found in lake was Mooresville fisherman”
Lake Norman Marine Commission, lnmc.org
NC Wildlife Resources Commission, “NCWildlife.org”