This past weekend's steady stream of boats traveling up and down Lake Norman's main river channel presented a challenge even to experienced mariners.
Besides navigating through a maze of boats at speed, the helmsmen had to safely maneuver through the large waves created by the wakes of passing vessels.
Boat wakes come in all sizes, as do the boats that create them. To some who may not be aware, the V-shaped waves widen, swell and have an effect like heavy ocean surf on passing vessels and, eventually, on the shoreline.
Wakes created by passing boats can take the fun out of an afternoon cruise, especially when the pounding gets so severe that it rattles teeth and spills drinks or knocks them from cup holders.
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Worse yet, very large wakes have swamped boats, done bodily harm to passengers and even separated cross-members from the hulls of boats.
So what can one do to minimize the negative effects of boat wakes?
When possible, avoid high-traffic and wake-prone areas such as the main river channel between markers 6 and 11, during weekends and holidays.
Regardless, a large wave will appear sooner or later.
The first course of action is to warn the passengers and slow the vessel. Don't stop the boat, since you need some forward momentum to hold course when the wave hits.
Avoid taking the wave head-on. By approaching the wake at a slight angle, you can minimize the jarring or rocking effect, and crew and equipment will be less vulnerable to harm.
In rough water, ask passengers to sit and face forward. Since the bow of the boat usually takes the brunt of the pounding, require everyone to sit amidships or as near the stern as practical.
Regardless of water conditions, don't allow anyone to sit on the bow with legs and feet dangling over the side.
At times you come upon a slow-moving vessel ahead of you that is pulling a large wake. To pass, lay back a safe distance, choose which side to pass on, and turn your boat at a 45-degree angle to the path of the other vessel. Maintain speed until you reach the wave, then slow to a speed that slightly exceeds that of the wake you are crossing.
As the bow passes its crest, increase speed slightly to avoid falling into the trough of the wave. Once the stern clears, increase speed and get back on course.
Here's a plea to anyone driving a vessel pulling a large wake: Remember the little boats. Norman is a lake, not an ocean. Most boaters are trying to relax and simply enjoy a leisurely family boat ride. They are not out there to be rocked and rolled by another boat's wake.
A free seminar, "How to Safely Navigate Lake Norman Using Sonar and GPS," will be 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday at North Point Watersports, 112 Doolie Road, Mooresville. I'll teach the basics of sonar and GPS. Bring your questions and instruction booklets. Call 704-617-6812 for details.
A free fishing seminar, "How to Catch White Perch," will 6:30-8 p.m. May 25 at Gander Mountain, off Interstate 77 at Exit 36, Mooresville. Jake Bussollini and I will lead the session. Bring the family to this informative and entertaining seminar. For more information, call 704-658-0822.
Boat wakes travel long distances, so doesn't be surprised when you encounter a rouge wave in open water. Also, remember that shallower water increases the size of a boat's wake.
The surface water temperature varies by location but is mainly in the 60s and 70s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.2 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 2.7 feet below full pond on Mountain Island Lake.