2017-05-18 / Opinion

Boating is better when it’s done safely

Southwest Florida (Charlotte Harbor, in particular) has some of the most fantastic boating, fishing and sailing in the world. The harbor was listed in Sailing Magazine as one of the top 10 places for sailors.

For first-timers visiting the area, it looks as if this big body of water should be very deep. Not so. The average depth is about 6 feet. This means there are some spots that are deeper, say 20 feet, but there is much more area less than six feet. On either side of the harbor — called the west wall or east wall, respectively — are sandbars that may extend up to a half mile from the shoreline. These are known as the flats to fishermen because, at a low tide, the sand and sea grass are exposed. Redfish will feed on crabs and shrimp buried in the bottom of this area. With the head of the fish angled down, the fish tail is sometimes exposed above the surface of the water. When you hear fisherman talk about tailing redfish, this is what it means.

The fishing boats used in these areas are shallow draft made for these conditions. Called “flats boats,” the outboard engine is sometimes mounted on a jack plate that can raise or lower the engine to suit the water depth. Generally, a push pole is used while standing atop a platform a few feet above the transom. This higher perch gives a better view to spot fish while drifting the flats.

Deeper V boats aren’t used in the shallows; they are designed for deeper water and ride smoother in waves because of the hull design. Sailboats need to be aware of depths at all times. Luckily, we don’t have rocks or steep, angled bottoms around Charlotte Harbor. Picture a big wide shallow salad bowl and, as you get closer to the edge, the depth gradually decreases. If you have not run aground in Charlotte Harbor, you probably haven’t been boating in Charlotte Harbor.

No matter where you go boating, there is certain equipment to take with you: safety items such as your registration, distress signals, flares, horn, fire extinguishers, life jackets and more. (It amazes me that one important item not on the required list for the U.S. Coast Guard is an anchor.) This could be a 75-foot yacht or sportfish, a runabout or pontoon boat, even a canoe or a kayak. There is a minimum safety equipment list.

There are several organizations that will inspect your vessel free of charge and give you a safety sticker to confirm that all your equipment is aboard and in good shape. If any of it is missing or in poor condition, they will note that — but not issue a sticker. The USCG Auxiliary performs these safety inspections and are very helpful in setting up your boat, no matter what size vessel you have.

The purpose is to help us as boaters to be aware of potential hazards, and be safe on our family outing. We have all heard horror stories of injuries and loss of life due to a boating accident. Any way that reduces this risk puts your mind at ease, so you can relax as you use your boat.

On Saturday, June 10, at the Nav-A-Gator boat ramp, the USCG Auxiliary will offer free inspections for anyone wishing to ensure their equipment is up to standards. Inspections start at 10 a.m. and run until about 2 p.m. Call 627-3474 for more information. Be safe and enjoy our great outdoors.

Fair winds; calm seas. ¦

— Capt. Dennis Kirk has been traveling the Peace River since 1979. His life adventures are written from various chapters in his three decades of experience in Southwest Florida. He is part owner of the Nav-A-Gator, a riverfront restaurant and marina in Lake Suzy, just off Kings Highway. For more information, call 627- 3474.

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