If you've ever taken a sunset cruise to a lakeside restaurant, did the thought occur to you that it might be dark when it came time to leave?
Believe me; a car ride home is much easier than a boat ride on a dark, unfamiliar lake when no one knows the way back by water.
What is one to do?
The first option, and maybe the best, is to leave the boat tied to the dock and call a taxi. But that seldom happens.
Usually, one person steers the boat while another gives directions based on what he or she can interpret from a lake chart with a flashlight. Most maiden voyages at night end successfully but are not fun.
To better prepare yourself for an initial night cruise, consider the following:
First, do not attempt to operate a vessel at any time without first completing a boating safety course.
For the first few night trips, take someone on board with experience to coach you.
Check the function of all navigation, interior and spot/floodlights before leaving the dock.
Learn how to use and interpret your boat's depth finder and compass. Both should be lighted for operation at night.
Have a lake map/chart on board.
Run at lower speeds in low-light situations and at night.
Assign someone to watch for oncoming traffic and water hazards.
Use docking lights only when approaching the landing site. They are not intended to be used as headlights.
When in doubt, stop the boat, particularly if the water becomes shallow.
Training, experience and how-to knowledge of basic equipment are of utmost importance.
One of the most useful tools for night navigation is a global positioning system. A GPS unit provides a lot of good information. It not only identifies the location of the boat on the chart or map, it shows lake details including channel markers, river and creek channels, islands and bottom contour changes.
In addition, a GPS feature can be enabled to show the trail of everywhere your boat has traveled during the trip. You can retrace that trail on the return voyage, and that will reduce the chance of running aground or becoming lost. Some call it the "bread crumb" feature, but whatever the name, it makes getting home in the dark much easier.
Handheld GPS units can be purchased for $100. Permanently mounted console units are more expensive. Marine GPS units aren't quite as easy to learn to use as those in today's automobiles, but the basics can be mastered in less than an hour. It's well worth the time spent.
Join me for a free boating seminar, "How to Safely Navigate Lake Norman Using Sonar and GPS," 6:30-8 p.m. May 18 at North Point Watersports, 112 Doolie Road, Mooresville. We'll discuss the basics of using sonar and GPS. Bring your questions and instruction booklets. Call 704-617-6812 for more information.
Catfish and white perch have become very active as the water warms. Fishermen drifting cut baits are catching large blues and flatheads. Channel cats are hitting chicken livers and stink baits in back coves. White perch are being caught in cove valleys and creek runs at depths to 30 feet. Best baits are small minnow and sabiki rigs.
Bass fishing is best around docks and fallen trees using soft plastics and spinner baits. Some of the best spotted bass fishing is around the N.C. 150 bridge and in the back coves of Mountain and Beaver Dam creeks.
The surface water temperature varies by location but is mainly in the 70s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.3 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 2.7 feet below full pond on Mountain Island Lake.