OUR VIEWS: Watch your wake

Aug 20, 2012

The channel in downtown Grand Haven is not one of those places.

Everything from the pier heads upriver to well beyond the entrance to Spring Lake is no-wake, but you'd never know that judging by the way many large crafts navigate their way through those waters.

The channel can be a tricky place for vessels to navigate even on days when there isn’t much boat traffic. On windy days, it’s not uncommon for large, undulating waves to roll in off Lake Michigan and wreak havoc on the boats, especially small vessels, heading in and out of the channel.

Throw in a handful of 30-plus-foot boats cruising along a bit faster than they should be and the waves between the two breakwalls become downright treacherous.

That fact was illustrated a week ago, when a small boat sunk to the bottom of the channel after the wake of a passing boat washed over the sides. Fortunately, all aboard were rescued without incident.

Granted, the boat owner needs to take some responsibility and use proper judgment in deciding what waters are safe for a small boat and what waters are not.

But that doesn't excuse those drivers from blame who cruise along with giant swells issuing from behind their boats.

A common misconception is that going slow is the only rule boaters must follow when traveling through restricted zones. That's not the case. Any boat, from a 16-footer up to a those measuring 40 feet and longer, throw up quite a wake when they come down off plane, but don't slow down enough to settle entirely into the water.

The channel can be a difficult enough place to navigate without the added challenge of surfing over 4-foot waves coming from the wake of another boat.

When you enter a no-wake zone, slow down and watch your wake. If there’s more than a gentle ripple issuing from behind your boat, you’re going too fast.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Liz Stuck and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to news@grandhaventribune.com or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.

Comments

Orvis

One thing we must accept is that in the channel there are big boats. Big boats create big wakes even at slow speeds. This article points out well the fact that mariners are responsible for determining when conditions are safe and when they are not. I think most do a pretty good job in the channel, however, an even bigger problem is that of Spring Lake on the weekends. "No Wake" zones need to be the result of the evaluation of boat density vs. available space. When there are many boats in a small space, it is very difficult for skippers to keep tabs on everything that is going on around them. This is when accidents happen. There are many boats on Spring Lake on the weekends and many of their operators are competent, responsible and peceptive individuals. It is difficult for even the best boaters to keep a weather eye for fishing boats, pleasure boats, kayaks, sailboats, stand up paddle boards, jet skis and the very small head of a tuber or water skiier that has fallen into the lake all at once. Yes, there are less perceptive people on the lake, and there are parents that allow their kids on towables when the lake is buzzing like a beehive which seems extremely iresponsible to me, but if they feel it's safe, fine. What scares me to death is the fact that the opportunity exists for even the most cautious skipper to be caught in an accident where somebody is seriously injured or worse, because he was distracted by another on the water activity. The narrow shape of Spring Lake, forces the boaters into a rather tight groove compared to neighboring Muskegon Lake and Lake Mackatawa. There are just too many boats on Spring Lake on the weekends for the space available. Would an ordinance to make Spring Lake "no wake" on the weekends be such a bad idea? Or would it proactively make it safer, reducing the potential for serious accidents or even death?

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