Note to readers: This article is not the usual verbiage you read in the marine police handbook, boating magazines or boat-owner manuals. Learn the rules in the authoritative manuals and consider the following suggestions as a great way to improve your boating skills on Lake Martin. These boating suggestions are based on 43 years of boating experience, more than 20 years on Lake Martin and more than 20 years of coastal boating in larger craft that included crossing the Gulf of Mexico and running the intercostal waterways, rivers, canals and bayous. 

Boats are not cheap to own and operate, and misuse can be expensive or deadly, as we have seen just in the last month on our lake, as an Auburn man was killed when his boat was struck in the first of two collisions in which it was involved about an hour apart (see page 16).

It’s important to note that being able to afford a boat does not make anyone a good boater. Please heed these suggestions and be a better boater:

Boater vs. Boat Driver: Owning an expensive new boat does not qualify anyone to be called a boater. A boater knows the rules and follows them and makes certain he operates the boat safely for his passengers and others on the lake. A boat driver does none of these things.

Boats Do Not Have Brakes: Learn this fact before you make an expensive or fatal mistake. Boaters should always approach other boats, docks and swimmers at idle speed, which means absolutely no wake.  

No Wake Zones: Boat drivers, look behind your boats at slow speeds. Do you see any waves behind your boats? If you do, slow down until you see no waves. Boaters know what No Wake means. Wakeboat drivers seem to have a special problem with this important rule, probably because wakeboats carry tons of extra water on board. Also, consider any boat operation within 200 feet of any dock or shoreline to be a No Wake area.

 Keep Your Distance from Other Boats: On Lake Martin, there are more than 7,500 homes, which means there are thousands more boats and PWCs. On weekends, you will be meeting, passing and interacting with boats. Keep your distance because you don’t know where the other boater plans to go next. Do not trust any boat driver to know how to be a boater. 

Docking Lights vs. Headlights: Most pontoon boats today have docking lights. No, these are not headlights. In the middle of the lake at night, docking lights serve no purpose except to act as spotlights that blind the approaching boaters. Spotlights are much worse and are a sure sign of a boat driver (not a boater).

Boating at Night: Boating at night could be a very rewarding experience with all the shoreline lights, cool night air and the excitement of putting your life on the line; however, I do not venture out on the lake on weekends because there are too many boat drivers who think it’s fun to scare passengers to death by running 40 miles an hour when he can’t see 50 feet in front of the boat. Do not ride a PWC at night: It is against the law, and it’s a great way to die quickly.

Keep Passengers Inside the Boat: Boaters know how dangerous it is for passengers to sit on the bow of any boat or pontoon with their legs hanging over the side. It is against the law and leads to many deaths, especially on pontoon boats. You can imagine what would happen with a child who fell forward when the boat hits a wake.

Drinking Boat Drivers: Everyone has heard the joke about the redneck who says, “Here, hold my beer and watch this!” This joke probably applies more to boat drivers than to any other group of drinkers. Alcohol, sunshine, heat, fun and picnicking in the boat is great, but the boater becomes a boat driver when any form of alcohol influences his ability to operate a boat. Our lake has recently experienced a death and at least one injury in a three-boat accident involving alcohol. It should not have happened. Be safe and be a real boater.

Announcements: The lake has a new outdoor church service available. Through a joint effort of New Water Farms and Dadeville First Methodist Church, an early morning contemporary Sunday service at 8:30 a.m. is conducted each week at the New Water chapel on the banks of the lake. The service is a non-denominational, and boaters are welcome. New Water Farms occupies the old Civitan property off county Road 34 on Sandy Creek. Services will be held each Sunday through September.

Also, the HOBO Annual Meeting in March was a great success. Moving the meeting date from busy May to cool March helped to significantly increase attendance and interest. The Lake Harris (Wedowee) FERC relicensing effort is progressing as planned. The Lake Martin HOBOs are participating in the various studies that impact Lake Martin and will keep members up to date on the multi-year process. The final FERC-approved study plan can be reviewed on the HOBO website at


Jesse Cunningham is president of the Lake Martin Home Owners and Boat Owners Association. Visit the website at for more information.