Boaters should be alert for unseen hazards


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is warning everyone about the hidden dangers that can occur during a day on the lake, stream, or river. Carbon monoxide poisoning and propeller strikes pose unseen risks for boaters.

“These hazards are especially dangerous because people can’t see them coming,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “We have unfortunately had several recent incidents where carbon monoxide led to tragedy. It’s situations like those that make us realize how safe we really need to be and we want to help people prepare for that.”

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, making it hard to detect. According to the most recent data from the Coast Guard it affected 31 people aboard boats, and of those people, five of them died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2019.

Just a month ago, three individuals, including an 11 year old, died from carbon monoxide poisoning on their boat while boating on Lake Erie.

Boaters should check that their vessel has carbon monoxide detectors. The CDC recommends taking several other precautions to help prevent a carbon monoxide buildup on your vessel: Properly install and maintain all fuel-burning engines and appliances. Educate all passengers about the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning. Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust. Watch children closely when they play on rear swim decks or water platforms. Never block exhaust outlets. Blocking outlets can cause CO to build up in the cabin and cockpit areas–even when hatches, windows, portholes, and doors are closed. Dock, beach, or anchor at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine. Exhaust from a nearby vessel can send CO into the cabin and cockpit of a boat.

Another danger boaters may not think about is a propeller strike beneath the water’s surface. A typical recreational propeller can travel from head to toe on an average person in less than one-tenth of a second. Earlier this spring, a man from Toledo learned about the dangers of propeller strikes while on the Maumee River.

He reported that one moment he was on the front of the boat when it was going full throttle and all of a sudden he was in the water. The propeller struck him on his left arm, severing muscle and arteries. His friends rushed him to the nearest docks while calling 911. He was taken to the nearest hospital, but doctors say it could be years before he regains full use of his arm, if ever.

Most propeller strikes are preventable if boaters take a few safety steps: Turn off the engine when passengers are boarding or disembarking. Propellers should not be spinning when a passenger is in a vulnerable situation. Prevent passengers from being thrown overboard accidentally. Never start a boat with the engine in gear. Never ride on a seat back, gunwale, transom, or bow.

Make sure all passengers are seated properly before getting underway. Some operators cause injuries by putting the engine in gear while people are still swimming or diving from the boat. Assign a responsible adult to watch any children in the boat and sound the alarm if a child falls overboard. Maintain a proper lookout for people in the water. The primary cause of propeller strike accidents is operator inattention or carelessness.

Slow down when approaching congested areas and anchorages. In congested areas, always be alert for swimmers and divers. Learn to recognize warning buoys that mark swimming and other hazardous areas. Keep the boat away from marked swimming and diving areas. Become familiar with the red flag with a white diagonal stripe and the blue-and-white “Alfa” flag—both signal that divers are down.

Just yesterday, I heard two different mayday calls to the coast guard on my marine radio while fishing at Lake Erie. One boat was sinking and the other was a disabled boat drifting into a rocky shoal. Accidents and mishaps can happen at any moment and it’s important that boat captains be knowledgeable to prevent tragedies as well as know what to do in the event something unfortunate happens.

• Good news for those who enjoy fishing at Knox Lake. After the recent rains the last two weeks, the lake is finally back to normal water levels. The water level of Knox Lake has been rising since mid May after being lowered a year ago for dam construction, which is now complete.

ODNR began rehabilitating Knox Lake’s 60-year-old dam in June of 2020 to adhere to safety standards and lowered the water level of the lake approximately six feet during construction. ODNR scheduled construction to be completed by June 2021. ODNR’s goal for the construction was to stabilize the spillway in case of a maximum flood. Other additions made during the past year include the installation of new gates to control lake levels and riprap to prevent erosion, smoothing out the back side of the dam for easier walking and mowing accessibility and the installation of new boat ramps.

Time will tell what has happened to the fish population during the drawdown in the past year. Hopefully the loss was minimal and the lake will bounce back quickly to being one of the area’s premier lakes for fishing.

Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!

Water and Wings by Ken Parrott

Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.

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