Boat wakes annoying, damaging

Published 12:33 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

BATTERY PARK — Waterman Steve Carter was unloading oysters recently when his boat was slammed against the dock at Pagan River Dockside Seafood in Battery Park.

When the waves subsided, Carter noticed the guard on his boat had been torn off. Carter estimates it will cost between $200 – $500 to repair it, depending on whether he does it himself or not.

The cause of the waves?

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Pleasure boaters driving too fast in and out of the Pagan River and throwing large wakes — particularly on Fridays and Saturdays, Carter said.

“We’re getting beat up against the dock,” Carter said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Mary Lancaster, who works at the Gatling Pointe Yacht Club, said boaters there have the same problem.

Mostly it’s boaters coming into the Pagan and residents get so angry they yell at the boats throwing big wakes, she said.

There are a lot of discourteous boaters out there, Lancaster said. 

According to state law, boaters must slow down to the slowest speed possible to maintain steering and forward motion when within 50 feet of piers, docks, ramps, boathouses and people in the water.

“It’s a courtesy to slow down so you’re not waking people,” said Tom Guess, deputy director with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Those who experience damage, and were able to get the name and port of the boat, can report that information to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, DGIF, the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as local law enforcement located in that jurisdiction, Guess said.

No wake zones are governed by the DGIF and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Gatling Pointe marina used to have no wake buoys in the water near the marina, said resident Frank Brown, who is also with the Nansemond Power Station. The Nansemond Power Station provides the now state-required boater safety courses, as well as vessel safety checks.

However, the buoys continued to float out to the James River, despite the 50 pounds of concrete securing them to the bottom of the Pagan River. Finally, Brown got tired of chasing them down.

“They’re probably out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean now,” he said.

Instead, Gatling Pointe has authorized “no wake” signs on the pilings at either end of the marina.

Even that is not enough, Brown said.

Brown said some of the larger boats can throw a wake although they are operating at the lowest possible speed.

Wakes are a topic of discussion during the boater safety classes, and those undergoing a vessel safety check get a refresher, he said.

But the message doesn’t always get through to the operator.

Brown told of one “cigarette boat” operator who didn’t slow down — despite there being a Smithfield Police boat nearby. That boat was pulled over, he said.

Every boat after that one slowed down, Brown said.

Those found guilty of reckless operation of a boat could be found guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor and lose his or her right to operate a boat for 12 months.

“People don’t realize how much damage a wake can do,” Brown said.

Those who want to install “no wake” buoys or signs must apply through the DGIF, and the application is available on the website. Once the application is made, the applicant must go to his or her local governing board, such as the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors or Smithfield Town Council.

The application is subject to a public hearing to receive input from interested parties.

If approved, the application goes to DGIF for approval, and a conservation police officer would evaluate the area where the markers would be placed.

It is up to the applicant to purchase and install the markers. The process is the same for signs.

An invalid “no wake” sign is not enforceable, Guess said.

Pagan River Dockside Seafood owner Joe Melzer said wakes have been an ongoing problem, but the damage to Carter’s boat was the final straw.

Not only can boats be damaged, but someone could get caught between the rolling boat and dock, he said.

Carter believes some people are just uninformed about the need to slow down near docks, whether or not there is a sign or buoy.

Unfortunately, boats don’t slow down unless they see a “no wake” sign or buoy, he said.  {/mprestriction}