As the season opener approaches here in the Northwoods and more kayaks are seen on the roof racks – let’s remember we are ambassadors of the water. We share the waters with humans and nature. The ability to return in the future to these destinations is everyone’s responsibility.
Upon your arrival to the water destination or boat launch, ensure you are parked in the correct location and not taking up a boat trailer spot. Some boat launches have launch fees – which may or may not affect you, the kayaker. Read the postings for their descriptions of what craft warrant a fee. Some boat launches I have been to charge innertubes, and inflatable rafts the same fee as a power boat. Personally, I do not understand how a inflatable raft can deteriorate a boat launch like a 3000 pound power boat.. but that is for another debate. If you really like that body of water, majority of fee based locations have an annual rate (which is much more cost effective). Boat launches act as a first come, first serve basis and there is a unload/load process which is commonly understood to all. Since you had paid your fee, you have as much right to use the ramp as the next person. Try to launch and land as quickly as you can – but always ensure you are safely doing that. It is best to convey to the fellow boaters your intentions to come in and use the boat launch.
Besides the normal obstacles and obstructions on the waters (piers, strainers, rocks, etc..) there are other concerns are on the waters. Folks fishing – When possible, make verbal contact with the person fishing – and try to see where the line is in the water. If able to stop, wait for them to reel in the line (if you know you will be very close to the end of the line), pass quickly and let them know you just say a big fish just upstream. Hunters (waterfowl) are a bit more difficult to see – being they are usually camouflaged and hiding behind those blinds. One of the more notable signs of these folks out and about would be the constant gun shots – or decoys floating around (why is that duck just sitting there???) If you believe you are near one of the blinds, stay clear. If you accidentally come up on one (especially paddling along the shoreline) change your heading away from them.
Power craft at speed, have restrictive movement. They need to have some time before making quick positional changes. We on the other hand, can maneuver and swing our kayak in a different heading in a fraction of the time. As a paddler, one should have their head on a swivel when sharing the waters with power boats – and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Power boats may not see a single kayak in the distance, it is your responsibility to make directional changes first to avoid head on collisions. Paddling with friends in a group makes it easier for others to see you (since you are now a larger element). The USGC sets the nautical rules of the road, and with other agencies enforcing the rules. Rules regarding kayaks are location dependent and change based on location – inside a harbor, in a channel, vs the open water. Let’s explore passing other vessels – and getting passed. There is a hierarchy of vessels and a ‘pecking order’ in which we are suppose to give way (to change direction) to avoid collision with another vessel. Which kinda look like this: kayaks must give way to sail boats, which give way to power boats, which give way to Military or law boats – which have the ultimate freedom. Overtaking (the process in which a boat passes one from behind) may be done from either side. Normally you may hear a blast from the boat behind you, this signals they will be passing on the left – two blasts mean they will be passing on the right. I can’t say I have ever had this happen to me, either the river was wide enough, in a no wake zone, or I was close enough to shore. If there is a boat coming head on in front of you, the most common scenario is for boat boats to turn to starboard (the right) and pass the other.
Inside the harbors and channels they follow a specific rule: Red Right Returning. These are marked with floating red and green objects, which can be either a buoy, can, panel, or nuns). Traffic flows to the right within this channel. Crossing a marked channel is much like crossing an intersection (although there is no crosswalk sign or button to push). When one comes upon a channel, slow or come to a stop, look both ways and all around you for any vessels, if none cross the channel with a quickness. When with a group, paddle together and try to stick together as a single unit (makes you a larger visible object.
While on the water, please do your part to ensure our waterways remain healthy. Follow the leave no trace process by not littering, pick up floating debris when you come upon it, and don’t litter – preform a small role in the big process. This notion applies to both water and land. If you are like me, I do a little kayak camping from time to time. I like think I am a ninja kayak camper….. Nobody knew I had been there, but yet I was.
There isn’t always public land along the water for us to get out or land wherever we want. Private property should be respected, even if it isn’t clearly marked by signs. If there is a need for a portage, look for portage signs, and follow the path. There are special occasions for getting out on private property – if there is an injury, damage to your kayak which needs immediate attention, or seeking safe harbor (when weather conditions could result in either of the two). The kayaker should attempt to make contact with the owner and notify them of the situation. Most owners will be more than happy to assist and have a better appreciation for you.
When landing your kayak (if it is a location from your put-in), pay attention to the arrival location. There may be a dedicated swimmer section attached to a public beach. This area would be well marked and usually roped off. Attempt to bring kayaks out of the way of fellow beach goers, if possible, place the kayaks on a grassy area and off the beach. Everyone will be happier to share the beach with each other.
After landing, there may be some unwanted passengers still on your kayak – I am talking about invasive species. These are non-native aquatic plants and animals which can be accidentally transported and introduced to other bodies of water. Once introduced in to different waters, they are nearly impossible to be eliminated. Ways in which one can assist the spreading is to remove these prior to leaving the water. Drain as much water as possible, use a sponge to wipe of the hull. When available, wash your boat at a fresh water cleaning station, or to really kill these guys, a mix of bleach and water (one TBSP to one Gallon of Water) sprayed on the kayak will do them in. It is best to let the kayak fully dry a couple of days before placing it back into another body of water.
Being a responsible boater is everyone’s responsibility – either powered by gasoline or by granola. Be observant, predictable, and respectful.
For the Paddler Within….