trace tail of speed boat on water surface in the river

The boat driver is responsible for any adverse effects caused by the wake.

The Home Owners and Boat Owners of Lake Martin annual business meeting is a great opportunity to see familiar faces and make new friends, to get updated on matters of importance to Lake Martin and to enjoy a great breakfast that is free to members. Our last meeting was Feb. 29, 2020, just before the world was turned upside down due to COVID-19.

Since then, the board has accomplished several goals including a new website, a new brochure and development of a membership subcommittee. The HOBOs annual meeting this year will be at Red Ridge United Methodist Church on Saturday, June 12. Reservations for breakfast are required and can be made on our website at lakemartinhobos.com, by email to info@lakemartinhobos.com or by calling Jimmy Bagley at 678-644-0473. Breakfast will be at 9 a.m., followed by the business meeting at 10 a.m. We will discuss issues that affect us all and address any concerns you may have. 

There are both new and ongoing concerns for all Lake Martin homeowners and boat owners. We should all be concerned about the lack of environmental policies to protect our resources, as well as issues associated with the increased development and boat traffic on Lake Martin. I particularly cannot understand how Alabama House Bill 238 did not pass during the recent legislative session. By establishing a rule to stay 100 feet from structures, vessels, shoreline and swimmers, and by making BUI offenses count against an offender’s driver’s license, HB 238 would have made all Alabama lakes safer.     

Every driver in this country is expected to get a driver’s permit, then a driver’s license and insurance. In Alabama, a learner’s permit is available at age 15 with a licensed adult present when operating the car. At age 16, a driver’s license can be earned by passing a driving test, demonstrating knowledge of the rules and safe operation of the vehicle. Our roads and highways have speed limits, traffic signs and signals, and passing and non-passing lanes are marked. These are necessary for safety, and license holders agree to obey these rules.

Ironically, in Alabama a 12-year-old is allowed to operate a water vessel that can travel at excessive speeds. Anyone 18 or older is allowed to rent a boat without taking a test, without a boater’s license and without knowledge of the rules or how to safely operate a vessel. There are no speed limits on the water, no caution signs or traffic signals, no marked lanes for passing, and there are no brakes on a boat or a personal watercraft.

I understand that needless laws can be overbearing, and I am not suggesting that we overhaul our boating laws, but House Bill 238 was simply a way to increase safety and protect us.  

HB238 was intended to make our lake safer for everyone,  not to take all the fun out of boating, as one representative put it in objecting to the bill.

We have more boats on the lake now than ever before. They are bigger and louder, and they create huge wakes, eroding the shoreline. There are more inexperienced drivers on the water than ever before as well. But the shoreline, docks, structures and swimmers would have been more protected by the passage of HB 238.

I have a friend who was seriously injured when his boat was hit broadside by a drunk driver who was driving at night with no lights on. Although I have observed increased awareness about the dangers of boating while drinking, it still doesn’t count as a DUI, so it does not fully deter boaters from abusing alcohol and other substances in the same manner as our DUI laws.  

My first article in Lake magazine as the president of Lake Martin HOBOs was about change (Lake magazine June 2020, p. 73), and working together for the good of Lake Martin. The use of Lake Martin by both full-time and weekend residents, as well as visitors, has increased dramatically. Last year was a banner year for real estate at the lake, and it seems like rental properties are popping up all over the lake. This year has broken records for the sale of boats, and boat rentals are booming, too. The more vacation rental properties we have, the more boat renters we have, and the more we need regulations to protect everyone from inexperienced vessel operators.

I realize that HB 238 would not have changed the regulations regarding licensure or who could rent a boat, but it would have established the rule to stay 100 feet from structures, vessels and swimmers.

At HOBOs, we welcome visitors to the lake but encourage everyone to show courtesy and respect for others, both in the neighborhood and on the water.    

I love this lake, and I am blessed to call it home. I know I speak for many who are concerned about what they see happening. So this summer, when you are on the lake, remember you are at the mercy of an increasing number of boat operators who are inexperienced, unlicensed and even reckless. They are good people just out to enjoy a day at the lake, and they often are unaware of the risk they present to others.

Be safe, and have a great summer.

 Steve Smith is President of the Lake Martin Home Owners and Boat Owners Association. Learn more at lakemartinhobos.com.