“Boats are getting bigger, so wakes are getting larger and the lake is getting more crowded so folks are looking for calmer waters closer to docks or up in slews. As a result, everybody’s docks are getting damaged, and they’re not able to swim,” Alabama Marine Police Patrol Officer John Williams said. “We’re launching a campaign called “Share The Lake, Watch Your Wake” in an effort to make people more aware of the damage they are causing on the lake.”
Williams said all Marine Police are asking is that boaters remember to be careful of their wake, both around homes, boat docks and other boaters.
“Knowing the wake zones on Smith Lake, or any lake for that matter, is key. We have over 7,000 docks on Smith Lake and the wake zone, I believe, is 100 feet from any structure on the water,” Williams said. “The reason for that rule is simple — it helps keep land erosion and destruction of property down.”
Another important rule boaters need to remember while boating on Smith Lake is — just like on the highway — drinking and operating a boat is against the law.
“All three counties that surround Smith Lake are dry, so folks need to be aware of that. But I think the more important thing to remember in many ways, is that drinking and operating a boat is a lot more dangerous than drinking and driving a car,” Williams said. “And here’s why - boaters tend to get a condition known as boater’s fatigue, especially toward the end of the day.”
Williams said boater’s fatigue is caused by the glare of the sun, the action of the waves, the wind and general tiredness, you add alcohol to that mix and you have a very deadly combination
“There has been talk that I’ve been overbearing on the people on Smith Lake. But that’s simply not the case,” Williams said. “I’m just doing my job. I don’t make the laws. I just enforce them.”
According to Alabama Marine Police statistics collected over the past five years, Lewis Smith Lake is one of the safest lakes in Alabama with its peak boating season generally running from May through September.
“We have one of the most family-friendly lakes in the state. You can bring your family out here, have a good time and go home safely,” Williams said. “But, like anywhere else, we do have folks who’d rather bend rules instead of follow them, so that’s why we’re here. Not to make friends, but to keep everyone safe.”
Whether people like to fish, water ski, tube, jet ski or just like to ride around in a boat summer days on the water can quickly end up in disaster if people are not prepared.
“You should always keep a sharp lookout for weather changes. Storms can come up quickly, especially in the summer, so remember to check the weather forecast before you head out, and watch out for any temperature changes and shifts in wind patterns. Because high winds on a lake can send you for a spin pretty quick,” Williams said. “Be sure to have Coast Guard approved life preservers for everyone on the boat, a fire extinguisher, a Class C flotation device for throwing and your boating license and registration.”
Walker County District Court Judge Greg Williams, who handles all the local cases from the Alabama Department of Conservation, is also urging boaters and parents to be more responsible this boating season.
“Our marine police are out there on the lake working hard to keep everyone safe,” Williams said. “We want folks to have fun on water this boating season, but be responsible about it at the same time. Have your boating licenses with you, don’t drink and drive and always be aware of what other boaters are doing around you.”
Williams is urging parents to keep their children safe while on the water. One of his main concerns is small children operating personal watercraft.
“It’s against the law for children 14 and under to operate any type of personal watercraft without a licensed operator on board over the age of 21. I compare it to putting a child on a Harley and letting them go down the road without you,” Williams said. “Why would you let your 10-year-old get on a wave runner without you? I would hate for someone’s Memorial Day weekend to end in a terrible accident, especially one that could have been avoided if they had just been more responsible.”