Independence Day weekend is one of our busiest of the year. This holiday weekend seems to attract more boaters to Lake Lanier than any other, rivaled only by the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Lake Lanier offers a lot of activities for the weekend, with fireworks displays by University Yacht Club and Lake Lanier Islands. There is no doubt that Sunset Cove will be packed with reveling boaters all weekend as well.
With a steady stream of business all weekend, the “fun” really begins after the last mortar has been fired in the fireworks shows, when everyone cranks up and takes off at once, all determined to be the first boat back to their dock. The tips below are based on the things we experience out on the water, and hope you might learn from, to make the weekend a safe and fun event for you, your family and guests.
Boats Don’t Have Headlights
You’ve probably noticed this posted on our Facebook page. Every time there is an “incident” related to this issue, you’ll see it again. Docking lights have become standard on a great number of the boats sold for use on the lake. Pontoon boats, Wake Boarding boats, even Cruisers are now coming equipped with docking lights. Each year, the numbers of boats we encounter running Lake Lanier at night with their docking lights on grows. There are a number of reasons that this using your docking lights as headlights is a bad idea. The risk they cause to you and your fellow boaters far outweigh any benefit or “comfort” you might feel having them turned on while underway.
They add little to your visibility
Docking lights are designed for the purpose their label indicates, docking your boat. While bright, they are not as strong, or focused as your auto headlights are. Add to this, the ever-changing running angle of your boat, and they are generally not pointing in a direction that you want them much of the time. There also isn’t much to illuminate within the range of these lights. Let me assure you, they are not putting out enough light to see an obstacle in the lake, in time to react.
They blind other boaters
You might think you are more visible to other boaters with your docking lights on. Think again! Yes, other boaters will certainly see two bright lights blazing in the darkness, but that brightness reduces the night vision of the boaters in their path.
They obscure your navigation lights
The brightness of these lights often overwhelms your nav lights, which “disappear” to other boaters, leaving them with no clue to your course relative to their own vessel.
They reduce your night vision
That extra light out in front of you reduces your night vision as well. This means that you won’t see the navigation lights of other boats as far off as you could without the extra light pollution.
A quick flash will do
If you believe another boat doesn’t see you, a quick flash or two of the docking lights can get their attention, and with the docking lights off, give them a shot of making our your navigation lights.
Speed Kills, Especially in the Dark
Slow down at night! Running wide open to get home after the fireworks is akin to trying to maintain highway speed in a busy parking lot. There will be a lot of boats of all kinds, slow, fast, big and small, all racing in all directions to seek their home port. Take it easy, and get home in one piece.
PLEASE check your navigation lights before leaving for the fireworks. In fact, check them early so you have time to repair them if necessary rather than make a dangerous call to run without them rather than disappoint your 4th of July guests. The number of boats this writer has encountered running the lake at night without working navigation lights has always amazed me. There are too many boats on the water after the fireworks to assume that you can safely just stay out of the way of other boats when your lights aren’t operating.
Several years back, while returning from a washed out fireworks display, this writer was using radar to help navigate as it was raining fairly hard, and extremely dark. I noticed a “blip” that popped up where there should have been nothing, and disappeared a couple of times. I slowed down, tried my spotlight, and didn’t see anything through the rain/mist. As I got closer, the blip appeared and stayed. I turned hard to starboard, cut the throttles, missing an unlit pontoon boat floating in the middle of a traffic area outside of Cocktail Cove, by feet. I turned back to check on the boat, to find an intoxicated couple caught in the act of making their own fireworks. There was not a single light on the boat as they cranked up and sped off back toward Cocktail Cove, quite fortunately alive by virtue of encountering a boat with radar before encountering one navigating without that benefit.
Flashing Emergency Lights
If you see any type of emergency strobe out on the lake, please use caution and try to avoid approaching them. Each of our towboats is equipped with red and amber