Lake Norman & Mooresville

Lake Norman's boat rafting rules move the party

Cautions for Lake Norman boaters who raft-up

Sgt. George Brinzey says boating enthusiasts who raft-up on Lake Norman should be aware of the potential dangers. They also should obey signs limiting where they can gather.
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Sgt. George Brinzey says boating enthusiasts who raft-up on Lake Norman should be aware of the potential dangers. They also should obey signs limiting where they can gather.

There are differing opinions on the effects of the increased enforcement this year of the Lake Norman Marine Commission rafting safety ordinance.

The boaters who enjoy rafting – anchoring and/or connecting boats together creating a large raft of boats – may not have liked having to move from their popular spot, the Sandbar, but residents along the shoreline there can now enjoy their homes without having a loud, musical concert in their backyard.

Bill Young, the newly appointed chairman of the rafting committee for the commission, said the committee is planning to meet to examine the regulations and enforcement; a date has not been set.

“I do not think we have a rafting issue on Lake Norman, I think we have a noise ordinance issue on Lake Norman,” Young said.

“Rafting has a place on Lake Norman, when done in a respectful manner. Anchoring with friends and family is a great way to spend the day on Lake Norman,” he said.

Boats that raft can be closer together than individual boats anchored separately.

“When people don’t raft, you greatly restrict the number of boats that can enjoy a particular cove or island,” Young said.

Cornelius resident Ken Ferrari had beached his pontoon boat on a recent weekday on Pirate Island, which was a family gathering spot when the Sandbar was being used for the rafting, and was enjoying a swim with his children.

Both the Sandbar and Pirate Island are near channel marker D4. Ferrari says the stepped up enforcement this year has shifted the problem from the Sandbar to what was once a family safe haven.

“I hate it,” Ferrari said. “Now all the party people come over here, so we don’t come on Saturdays.”

Cornelius Police Department Sgt. George Brinzey, 34, said most of the complaints they received at the Sandbar, since his department took over the lake patrol for Mecklenburg County in July of 2015, have been for “loud and profane” music.

He understands both sides of the rafting issue.

Brinzey said he would raft up when he was younger, “but our boats didn’t have the loud stereo systems they have today and there weren’t as many boats.”

The Lake Norman Marine Commission rafting safety ordinance, put in place May 15, 2007, established regulations that control the areas where rafting would be prohibited. The regulations state that for 11 or more boats, the group must be 300 yards from the shoreline, the only exception being around islands.

The popular spot called the Sandbar, a shallow water shoal that is less than 300 yards from the main shoreline, was excluded from the island exemption as was the causeway along Interstate 77 where the activity was causing problems on the nearby highway. The Sandbar is off Davidson Creek, in a smaller creek called Hagers Creek. Bethel Church Road and the Mandarin Point Drive are the closest land references.

That exclusion meant no rafting, anchoring or grounding by anyone, at any time, in those areas unless a permit was obtained.

Young said signs were posted in both areas, telling boaters where the rafting could begin and where is is prohibited.

Brinzey has another concern, though: safety on the water and access in large crowds.

The group that gathers on the summer weekends can swell to more than 200 boats, with small openings between the boats that are filled with swimmers.

Brinzey said the number of boats and swimmers limits access by the emergency responders to anything in the middle of a raft up.

Even with the rafters moving out to the 300-yard barrier, which is marked by warning signs, the safety issue remains.

Brinzey said there was one man injured by a boat prop so far this season and with nine people drowning in area lakes so far this summer, his concern is elevated.

The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend this year, Brinzey said he faced, “probably the most helpless situation I have been involved in as a law enforcement officer.”

A boater who had too much to drink decided he was going to leave. He had untied from one boat, but was still attached to two others as he started his motor and began trying to move the boat back and forth, inside the raft up with swimmers in the water near him.

“We could not get inside to do anything. I wanted to help those people, but we could only watch,” Brinzey said.

Another boater jumped into the boat, took control and motored the offender out of the raft up to the police, where he was arrested for operating a boat under the influence.

If there were a medical emergency in the middle of a raft up, Brinzey said the emergency responders would face the same problem the police lake patrol experienced that day, no access.

Cornelius resident Ken Ferrari had beached his pontoon boat on a recent weekday on Pirate Island, which was a family gathering spot when the Sandbar was being used for the rafting, and was enjoying a swim with his children.

Both the Sandbar and Pirate Island are near channel marker D4. Ferrari says the stepped up enforcement has shifted the problem. “I hate it,” Ferrari said. “Now all the party people come over here, so we don’t come on Saturdays.”

Brinzey said the Cornelius police have not yet issued a single citation. That could change soon.

“So far it has been more of an educational experience,” he said. Once the boaters are made aware of the ordinance and the Class 3 misdemeanor conviction with $500 fine per violation, they comply.

“Most of the people are here to enjoy the lake responsibly and we just want to make sure they can do it safely,” Brinzey said.

Marty Price is a freelance writer: martyprice53@gmail.com.

Learn more

The lake Norman Marine Commission Rafting Safety Ordinance regulations provide that one or two boats must be 100 yards from the shoreline, three to 10 boats must be 200 yards from the shore line, and 11 or more must be 300 yards from the shoreline unless near an island. The regulations calls for 200 yards between any raft line and 50 yards between any anchored vessel.

The Sandbar on the shore side and Interstate 77 corridor are prohibited areas where rafting of any size is not allowed.

The commission’s next meeting is 7-8:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Charles Mack Citizens Center, Mooresville. For information go to the Lake Norman Marine Commission website, http://lnmc.org/lkn/

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