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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Motorboat safety on Lake Placid

View of sunset from a boat on Lower Saranac Lake. (Photo provided — Brendan Wiltse)

A few weeks back, I hiked into Whiteface Landing to scout for future guided trips. When I arrived, I sat on the shoreline and watched the low hanging clouds waft through the surrounding mountains. My only company? A pair of vocalizing common loons checking in with a mate or searching for chicks.

The rain and thunder that day scared most powerboaters away, giving the lake an eerie calm rarely seen in the summer. Later that week, I began to wonder how many motorboaters on our Adirondack lakes are familiar with motorboat ethics — the use of motorboats in a way that minimizes impacts to other people’s recreational experience and to the natural habitats of the lake itself, including loons in their nests. Not a frequent powerboater myself, I had to dust off my knowledge and do a little research on current best practices.

America’s Boating Club, the Water Sports Industry Association, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provide helpful guidelines for motorboat safety. Of the many guidelines, a few are worth underscoring. First, always check with local laws, waterways and inherent risks. Second, wear a U.S. Coast Guard or other agency-approved personal flotation device (life jacket). These keep you afloat even when unconscious and may save your life in an emergency. Next, be sure to boat, ski and ride under control and at an appropriate speed. For example, respect no-wake zones by slowing down to completely eliminate wake.

Other important practices include ensuring that the engine cutoff lanyard, if equipped, connects to the operator; and turning off the ignition when someone is near the engine power drive. Even if passengers, skiers and riders distance themselves from the engine, be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning near boat exhausts. Never boat, ski or ride near swimmers, other boaters (including those in human-powered crafts), shallow water or other obstacles. Drugs or alcohol can influence these decisions, so never operate watercraft under the influence. These guidelines constitute a few — but certainly not all — of the measures you can take to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable day on the lake. A state-approved boating safety course, required for all operators as of 2025 regardless of age, is an excellent way to dive deeper into the guidelines above.

But what about environmental impacts? Before you even launch your watercraft, ensure that you’ve cleaned, drained and dried it from previous use to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, and do the same at the end of your trip. There are a variety of boat washing stations across the Adirondacks, so use the DEC’s interactive online map to take advantage of these free resources and protect the waters you love.

Furthermore, make sure your boat is in good working order to minimize oil, gas, or chemical spills. Wax your fiberglass hulls often to prevent the accumulation of surface dirt, and when you are ready to deep clean your watercraft, make sure to use non-toxic cleaning solutions.

Finally, always keep our local wildlife and, in particular, loon populations in mind. Observe loons from at least 500 feet away and if you come into closer contact, slow down to reduce engine noise and avoid impacting hard to see loon chicks. Additionally, stay away from loon nests and shoreline habitats to protect breeding and chick rearing cycles.

One of our goals at the Ausable River Association is to promote public enjoyment of the watershed through responsible, low-impact recreational opportunities. All outdoor recreation has some impact, but we can all take small steps to ensure we’re doing our part to protect our Ausable waterways and adjacent lands.

Please consider supporting our work by giving to our 2021 Summer Matching Challenge. We’re almost 75% of the way to our $40,000 goal. And, if you want to dabble in human-powered watersports, consider purchasing some tickets for our Placid Boatworks canoe raffle. Here’s to a great remainder of the summer out on the lake.

(Tyler Merriam is the donor outreach manager for the Ausable River Association.)