Be predictable; be safe

Published 8:16 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Though the weather may not seem so hospitable this week, rest assured, summer is on its way. Here, that means ample opportunity for people to get out and enjoy Beaufort County’s greatest asset: the Pamlico River and its various tributaries.

Though most associate being on the river with warm, sunny weather and calm water ideal for skiing or wakeboarding or a little bit of chop on the river that makes for great day of sailing, it’s important to remember that the river can be unpredictable.

For example, there were two incidents on the water on Monday that speak to water as a force to be respected, as well as the need to be prepared for its unpredictability. The first involved a sailboat anchored just off Washington Park. The second was a kayak overturned, its occupant dumped in the chilly waters of the Pamlico. For both, the root cause was a strong wind out of the east creating waves larger than those usually seen on the river. The kayaker did not expect the large wave that tipped the kayak; the sailboat owner did not expect the substantial anchor which kept the boat moored to succumb to incessant wind and waves. In both cases, the situations were resolved without incident.

But both could have certainly gone the other way. Had the kayaker not been wearing a personal flotation device and no one had seen the overturned vessel and come to the kayaker’s assistance, the situation could have had a very bad ending. Had no one been able to stop the drifting sailboat and tow it back to anchor it more securely, the vessel could have caused a lot of property damage, not only to itself, but to the railroad trestle spanning the Pamlico and privately owned docks west of Havens Gardens.

The case cannot be made enough that the river is unpredictable. In summer, downdrafts of massive thunderstorms can kick up large waves in a heartbeat, turning an enjoyable river outing to a struggle to save property and/or lives. Anyone venturing out on the water needs to be prepared for that eventuality.

First and foremost, always wear a personal flotation device when using or travelling on the water, whether that’s in a boat, a kayak, a canoe, on a paddleboard or any other type of vessel. Second, be prepared for any emergency — on smaller vessels, make sure to carry a whistle to attract attention of other boaters or rescuers in addition to wearing the PFD. For larger vessels, take advantage of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s free vessel checks, to make sure a boat meets safety requirements and has all the necessary equipment in case of emergency.

Whether a veteran boater or new to boat ownership, it would be wise to take advantage of these safety checks.

Weather is unpredictable; the river is unpredictable. What is predictable is the outcome of an emergency if one is not prepared to the best extent possible.