How To Be On a Lake With Large Boats

I went out today to a lake called “Glen Lake” here in the lower adirondacks. This is a smallish lake that is fairly well developed but I wanted to test my new boat on some not-so-flat water.

Its the weekend, in the summer, so a lot of these Lake Houses were not only occupied but the lake was very well occupied as well. Motor boats, everything from JEtski’s to Pontoons and a couple of ski boats were zipping around the lake.

The pontoon boats I cna handle, they saw me, waved, and kept on moving, but what is the protocol with the faster boats, besides staying away from them? At the speed they move, I can go to one end of the lake and be away from them onyl to have them there in a short time. I’ve stuck to the shallows where they can’t go but I’d like to get out and explore the other end of the lake, but to do so I have to travel through their area. I stay close to the shore, but all the same, JetSkis dock near where I paddle.

Before Kayaking I was never into boating, but now am, and this is a close lake with pleanty to explore so I’d rather not have them “ruin” my time. I guess Im just looking for proper etiquete and how best to avoid getting run over (I already paddle a yellow/orange/red boat and wear a bright red PFD).

Thaks in advance for your help,


Bright colors help
Also when you see a boat if theres any chance of confusion turn a little more so it’s obvious which way you plan to go.

When I did a solo trip On Flaming Gorge I had a camo hat that reversed with a flourescent orange top I wore it so I’d show up.

Most boaters are just like us and just out for fun and will avoid you if they see you. Rockets and bow mounted torpedoes have been suggested for the occasional idiot you find. A camera to snap a picture of an offenders registration and slimy face is probably a more logical if less entertaining choice.



But paddling on a lake filled with powerboats and jetskiiers is about as relaxing as going for a walk on the shoulder of the interstate. My advice:

  1. are there any shallow fingers of the lake that are no wake zones and the powerboaters don’t go? Find them and paddle there.

  2. Is there another nearby lake in the area with a low or no horsepower rule? If so, paddle there.

  3. Does your work schedule permit you to paddle at off-peak times? There are a lot of lake in my area that are a zoo on weekend afternoons, but are serenely empty at other times–during the week, in the early mornings (even weekend early mornings), in the evenings. My paddle club paddles on Tuesday evenings at a lake in the summer and we generally have the lake to ourselves. On weekends, this lake is a very different place.

    You can and should learn how to paddle safely around fast boats. But you’re never going to really enjoy your kayaking experience if they are limited to paddling during motor madness times.


Thanks To All
Randy: I do need to grab myself a hat. My not-so-thick hair has me getting sunburnt too.

wkerriganoh: I agree with your analogy. It was a lot like taking a leasurely stroll on the highway. I got some good exercise, though, and certainly wasn’t doing any site seeing. The great thing about this lake is that, during the week, no matter what time, no one is out besides a couple of little tin motor boats and some pontoons. Its the weekend when it gets crazy. There is a great marshy area at one end of the lake but no launch there - its actually part of an amusement park’s property so there really isnt even a way to get in there without paying 36 bucks for a ticket, and even then I think they might call me crazy and send me away if I tried to carry in my Kayak. There are also a ton of other lakes here that are no motor/low horsepower lakes and I do frequent those.

I guess my question was more along the lines of “What do I do when I find myself in a situation with fast boats?” I’ve never been good at phrasing :slight_smile:

Paddle Reflectors - I’ll certainly be getting a couple of those!

Common concern-
I have paddled with plenty of people that were scared to death of other boats. I paddle off Chicago and Milwaukee quite regularly and have learned a bit.

First of all, make sure your skill level is high enough to handle whatever wakes they might produce.

Realize that your chances of getting hit are not very good. Wave a paddle and make your direction obvious. As the other poster stated, they are not out to get you.

I now welcome the boats and their wakes- and if worse comes to worse, it will probably be a glancing blow. In that case, I will try to protect my head and hope for the best.

Your Questions

– Last Updated: Jul-31-06 9:02 AM EST –

You posed a questions about boating etiquete and there are simple rules of the road. They are generally available. If you arm yourself with an understanding of the rules of the road you should reduce your exposure to some degree. Unfortunately not everyone follows the rules.

I paddle frequently in high boat traffic areas and understand your pain. I have learned to stay near the edge of boating channels, give way when not required, move quickly across channels, and generally keep my eyes open and paddle defensivly. The vast majority of boaters will share the water with you. Occationally it can get exciting.

Happy Paddling,


Also, be predictable.
Don’t stop and start or change direction quickly and don’t dawdle when you’re paddling in an area with power boats. Let it be very clear which direction you’re going and how fast you’re going there. And if you’re with other people, stay pretty tightly together in a bunch rather than spread out in a line.

I often wear…
…my bright yellow white water helmet while

paddling on the lake.

Not only for visibility but to protect against


Although if the truth be known, I have far more

trouble with the bass fisherman than the jet


I always wondered if I could rig…
…a rear view mirror to mount on the front

hatch straps.

rroberts., my mirror idea

– Last Updated: Jul-30-06 9:56 PM EST –

Try this: buy a small hand mirror at Wal-greens, and mount it on an fairly short rubber band. Secure to front of PFD in an unobtrusive fashion. When you hear a motorboat behind you, or are looking for paddles behindyou, simply pull the small mirror that is hanging on the rubber band(s) off the front of your PFD, hope it up by stretching the bands, and look behind. When done, let go and it goes to short position again.

Like this mirror, only much much smaller, but with a handle. They sell them that have a handle but are about 2 inches across for 99 cents.

Doubles as a signal mirror.

This is invaluable for looking at a baby in one of those backpack baby carrier things to see if they are awake, asleep, etc.

What To Do When Boat Coming Right For U

– Last Updated: Jul-30-06 10:07 PM EST –

On this same line of questioning, good topic sphhinxy, I wondered what I would do if the biggie were going to hit. Here comes Joe Motorboater, bearing down on me, Budweiser can bottom toward the sky with one hand, steering wheel in the other, me signaling like a banshee from my low-on-the-water kayak, and I am going to get hit.

I have often thought that, at that instant when you know you cannot paddle out of it, and shear terror reigns, I think I would capsize on purpose and swim downward as fast as I could. Try perhaps to capsize away from his boat, in the event I did not rotate it fast enough, his boat hits my hull rather than my head. Sure, I might get propped like a manatee on a Bradenton canal, but I've got to do something. I might not get propped and live, especially if I can ditch the PDF and swim down. Here is one instance when not having the PFD would be a good thing. Unless he crops me with the prop, that is.

Anyhow, what would others do? No right or wrong answers here, but thinking of it in advance saves having to think of it in a few nanoseconds when the motorboat bow is sharking for your cockpit.

Almost that same situation once happened

Years ago, I was waterskiing behind a boat piloted by my Dad.

I had fallen and was still in the water when something happened with the gears and he started messing around with the gear shift. Claims my brother did something to gunk it up.

Anyway, he accidently slid it into reverse. The boat had been behind me and I expected to see it come around in front, when suddenly I hear the prop and turn to see it bearing toward my ear.

I tried to dive under the rear corner of the boat, which would have worked…except my skiis were still attached.

They stuck me to the surface and the prop caught my foot, slicing it good.

No more gory details, but I got stiched up and ended up ok, with just a small scar to show for the misadventure.

My dad never drove that boat again after that, and later sold it.

For years, he would turn white if the subject were even mentioned.

He’s pretty old now, though, and recently I asked him if he remembered the incident. He said yes, and claimed it was my fault.

Not sure exactly how THAT works, but nevertheless I am very cautious around large boats. Also, I have never waterskied since.

Hand Mirror?
Is there some reason you can’t just turn and look behind you? Want you hand off your paddle if concerned about avoiding other traffic and their wakes?

That thing might make a good hand paddle though! (Could come in handy if your main paddle gets away because you set it down to fiddle with the mirror).

Seems to me the last thing people who are already challenged by boat traffic need is more stuff to deal with.

glad your foot’s OK

When you are in boat traffic, there are rules of the road. Don’t think for a minute that everyone knows or observes them. A Coast Guard class is a good idea for anyone who spends time on the water.

Here is a link to COLREGS.

Remember, large boats need the deep water of the channel. They can’t move over.

You will have alot of fun on the water. Be smart and safe. There’s room for everyone.

There is no safe way of paddling
with power boats, period. They are hostile at you for interferring with their varooming around the lake, or take no notice of you like you are a bug. Granted a few are considerate, but very few. I never attempt to paddle where there are many power boats. It just isn’t worth the terror you go through with all the close calls. I think most of them think it’s fun to buzz a paddler, while I think most of them are idiots. Too bad we can’t share the water, but they don’t want to – agression is fun especially when the other person can’t be agressive. I don’t know, maybe we should all back guns and start firing warning shots across their bows.

signaling like a banshee
I’d recommend paddling like a banshee instead.

If you have time to signal, you have time to move the few feet or do a turn needed to get clear. If not - if they veer into you in a split second (really unlikely) - at least your hands are on the paddle and you can use it defensively.

The only serious boat/paddler run overs I remember reading about was that guy at night recently - who was yelling and waving instead of paddling! Seems like a case of panicking and freezing where a couple strokes could have gotten him clear. The other was the rowing scull a few years ago in AZ. Neither could see well in that one.

If the boater doesn’t see me - and is close enough to really be an immediate threat (which is REALLY close) - I’m not wasting time signaling. Probably won’t work anyway (otherwise they wouldn’t be about to hit you), and if you even have time for that it’s time lost that you could use to get clear or at least get positioned better. If the boat’s farther off and I have time to signal and some better chance of that added action getting me seen - I’ll still paddle instead because I have even more time to be clear.

Maneuvering has better odds of helping because it’s 100% in your control rather than trying to get someone else to do something. Just a few feet or a quick turn can do it.

Capsizing and exiting? I’d let the flip (if any) take care of itself. Doing it before could get you lower and more under the props. If you have time to exit AND dive you have time to get clear. Not to mention trying to get any decent depth with PFD - or get it off - or the risk of being without it after a boat strike. Being out of the boat removes a layer of protection. If you don’t get prop chopped the hull impact can still kill you. Better to go hull to hull. A collision has a pretty good chance of pushing you aside unless a perfect T-bone. Again, very unlikely if your in control up to that point instead of being a sitting duck flailing around signaling.

IMO - People who’s natural reaction is to stop and wave/make noise are putting themselves at unnecessary risk and not taking responsibility for their own vessels position. People who begin waving/honking at boats that are still a ways off don’t do much to help the image of paddlers as capable boaters either.

“they don’t want to”???
OK, I realize lakes suck - but is it that these boaters don’t want to share the water, or that your idea of sharing requires they operate as you see fit to match what you can handle?

The more threads like this I read, the more I’ve come think a lot of paddlers are not really able to handle wakes, maneuver very well, or even stable/comfortable enough in their boats to be able to look behind themselves as they paddle without fear of tipping.

I also know my views are not popular among those who believe others should accommodate them regardless. Maybe next time I go though the port I’ll try waving my paddle at every vessel near me or heading in my general direction and see how long it takes the CG/BSO/FLPD/Pilot to kick me the hell out of there.

Keep a watchful eye out, avoid when you
can, cross main boat lanes, if any as quickly as possible, wear your pfd, and if God forbid, one aims at your kayak, either take a dive out of the way or bend down and kiss you a** goodbye. Teen boat drivers and drunks are your problem boaters, most want to avoid you. Jet skis are annoying, but not that big of a deal. For the most part, if find jet skis to be more annoying when the slow down to pass than when the speed on by. Then again, sometmes you get the last laugh. Yesterday, some guys in a $30K inboard/outboard cruiser grounded on a sand bar in the middle of the lake. Seems they needed 34" of draft and had only 18". Oh for the lack of a $60 depth finder. Using my trusty little finder, I was able to get them out of trouble.

Boat Wakes are Fun

– Last Updated: Jul-31-06 5:13 AM EST –

If a boat wake knocks you over, maybe you don't belong there.

If you want to stay safe when there's a lot of traffic just stay in the shallows. This summer a big boat came straight at my buddy and me and !YES! he ran aground.