A marine commission aims to calm the waters between kayakers and boaters by establishing a no-wake zone near the U.S. National Whitewater Center on the Catawba River.
Brad Thomas, chairman of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission, said the zone will slow down motorized boats that could pose a safety risk to people kayaking and paddle boarding in the area. He said he expects the no-wake zone to be established in about a year.
“It’s a narrow area anyway, and it’s becoming more congested,” he said. “We’re afraid there is going to be an accident.”
The marine commission last week voted 6-1 to start the process to expand the no-wake zone around Saddler Island.
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The commission will suggest to the N.C. Wildlife Commission placing no-wake buoys on either end of Saddler Island, which is between the Whitewater Center and Tailrace Marina in Mt. Holly. There is currently a required 50-yard no-wake zone by Tailrace Marina.
Terry Everhart, who retired this year from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department lake unit after more than 20 years, was the sole dissenting vote. He said places that rent kayaks and paddle boats need to provide more education before sending people out on the water.
“We’re not addressing the real problem,” he said.
Everhart said the police boat makes a trip to Saddler Island every day and sees paddlers sitting in the middle of the channel, blocking boaters’ access to the rest of the river.
“I’ve worked in the field long enough to know that just putting a buoy in there is not going to make the difference they want it to make,” he said.
He said the Whitewater Center, which owns more boats than the marina and contributes the most to the traffic, should tell paddlers to stay near the sides of the river and to be careful around motorized boats.
As paddle boarding and kayaking become more popular, traffic in the channel will continue to increase. The Whitewater Center has added about 30 kayaks in the last year, said spokesman Eric Osterhus.
The center gives paddlers a short briefing, cautioning them to stay to the side of the river and let motorized boats pass, before sending them out on the water.
But Bob Wilson, who owns Tailrace Marina, said wakes from motorized boats are still dangerous in that area of the channel.
“Our concern is that someone might get injured by a boater who might be going at an excessive speed and throwing a wake that could cause some damage,” he said. “To relatively novice people, it presents a problem.”
Commission chair Thomas said the next step is to work on the education of paddlers from the center and the marina.
Everhart said: “There’s enough room for everybody, and it’s definitely not worth someone getting hurt over.”