No wake zone a sore subject for some boaters

Published 7:35 pm Friday, June 23, 2017

The Washington waterfront is a big draw for boaters, whether they’re docking for a day or for the long haul. The sheltered water of a narrowed Pamlico River provides a safe haven — that is, until a boat flies by at full-speed-ahead.

That many boaters don’t observe the no wake zone stretching from the train trestle to the east and the U.S. Highway 17 Business bridge to the west, has become a nuisance to other boaters.

Carlotta Little and husband Mike live on their sailboat, one of 40 boats docked at Moss Landing Marina, which is located at the eastern edge of the no wake zone, just inside the train trestle. They, and their boat, have experienced a few bumps and bruises due to big wakes.

“It’s like people don’t know what to do,” Little said. “They’re going too fast. I don’t know that people know about the no wake zone. And they don’t know that if your wake damages someone’s property, you’re responsible.”

A big wake rocking some big boats into a dock can, indeed, do some damage, according to Steve Schwing, a part-time dock attendant for the City of Washington.

“We’ve had some guys come through and kick up pretty big waves,” Schwing said. “It certainly bounces (boats) around and could potentially break lines and cause damage, depending on how they’re tied up. The ones on the outside T-dock are subject to more damage because they’re only tied on one side.”

Schwing said he’s sensitive to the subject because he personally keeps a boat on the waterfront. When they see boaters traveling faster than an idle, he and others docked on the waterfront attempt to get them to slow down before damage can be done.

“We try to yell at them when we can, but sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Schwing said. “I don’t know what else can be done. Unless you’ve got somebody enforcing it all the time out there, there’s not a lot you can do.”

Wildlife Resources Commission’s law enforcement division is tasked with enforcing the Washington no wake zone, among many others.

“Normally during the summer, we’re on the water almost every day, but we have a lot of water to cover, so we’re not always up there,” said Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Justin Owenby. “We go through the (Washington waterfront) no wake zone three or four times a week, and on the weekends, I’ll sit in the no wake zone. … It’s not that we’re there all the time, but we’re there during the busiest times.”

Owenby said part of the problem might be confusion as to where the no wake zone starts. Until earlier this year, the markers designating the zone were not the traditional red and white signs. Instead they were yellow and black signs made by an outside source.

“That may have been the reason in the past: just people not seeing the normal regulatory signs,” Owenby said.

Now there are markers on the exteriors sides of both the train trestle to the east of the waterfront and the U.S. Highway 17 Business bridge to west, marking the beginning of the no wake zone on each side. The markers are in addition to buoys inside the zone. But even with the repetition, Owenby said the most likely reason people don’t observe the no wake zone is that they’re just not familiar with the area or aren’t paying attention.

“They don’t pay attention to the sign. There’s a lot of people who think that it doesn’t start until the first buoy,” Owenby said. “The majority of the problem is people not from here and not knowing about it.”

Owenby urged boaters to pay attention to the signs, in addition to urging those drinking alcoholic beverages on the water to have a sober operator aboard.

Little encouraged people to follow the rules — some of those docked boats are people’s homes that are rocking on big wakes.

“It’s a courtesy thing,” Schwing said.