Boat runabout

Traffic of all kinds of recreational craft is high on the popular Kentucky and Barkley lakes on a typical Fourth of July holiday weekend.

People headed to Kentucky’s lakes and rivers for good times afloat this weekend should expect to incur the heaviest boating traffic of the year for the July Fourth holiday period.

The “long holiday weekend” observed this year technically starts today, Independence Day falling on Saturday, thus today being the designated holiday for state workers. Through Sunday, at least, the number of recreationists on public waters should be as high as it ever gets.

Because the July Fourth holiday boating turnout is typically the busiest of the year, those headed to the water should also anticipate a higher presence of aquatically oriented law enforcement out there this weekend.

State and federal enforcement ramps up at this time for public safety concerns. High boat traffic and sometimes inappropriate celebratory behavior have a track record of increasing risks for accidents, drownings and injuries during this peak summer holiday.

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources and U.S. Coast Guard increases officers’ on-water presence, and one of their primary roles during such high traffic periods is inspecting the onboard safety gear of recreational boaters.

Within those regulations to fulfill, water cops are especially concerned about boaters meeting Kentucky life jacket regulations — that there be an approved personal flotation device on board for every passenger, and that any child under the age of 12 wears a life jacket when in an open portion of a boat at any time the boat is underway.

The reason for that priority is simple. Safety statistics show that by far the greatest risk in boating accidents is drownings. Furthermore, the toll of drownings by far are higher for those people not wearing life jackets. Looking at it inversely, many people who have died in boating accidents would not have perished had they been wearing life jackets.

Another area of concern is boat operators navigating the lakes and rivers under the influence of alcohol. National safety statistics bear out that imbibing skippers are commonly seen associated with accidents that lead to injuries, drownings and other deaths.

Water enforcement is alert to erratic boat operation that may point to alcohol-diminished piloting. Kentucky law has a provision for prosecuting those guilty of BUI, that is, boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

KDFWR law enforcement warns that recreational boaters are subject to a debilitating factor when they consume even smaller amounts of alcohol. A combination of heat and direct sunlight, wave action and engine drone can merge with even modest alcohol levels to create a numbing state labeled “boater fatigue” that is known to dull senses and raise risks for accidents on the water.

So, be sure required safety gear is up to snuff. And let’s be careful out there.

• It seems unlikely that commercial fishermen would continue through the holiday weekend, but for now and later, too, beware of yellow flags out on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

Licensed commercial fishermen employ nets set about 3 feet below the surface of the two lakes to snare invasive Asian carp. The exotic carp compete with native fish for food and living space, and the commercial netting is needed to help reduce numbers of the invasive carp and benefit preferred species.

Highly visible yellow flags are often placed at intervals over the suspended gill nets. Boaters, water skiers and others on the water should avoid the lines of yellow flags if they are encountered. Boats, skiers, etc., should not attempt to pass between yellow flags for risk of entanglement.

• The Land Between the Lakes’ Colson Hollow Group Camping Area reopened earlier this week, bringing camping options there back to relative pre-COVID-19 level.

Colson Hollow, south of Golden Pond along the shore of Kentucky Lake, is a rare location that can accommodate large groups. Shut down since inception of COVID-19 restrictions in March, it opened again on Monday. For now under continuing coronavirus-related considerations, Colson Hollow will be open to group up to as large as 50 people, but not larger gatherings.

Other LBL camping — from basic and self-serve campgrounds, to developed family campgrounds — all have been phased back into operation. Dispersed backcountry camping was never restricted.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

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