The coast of Georgia is a Tidal Zone. If you are a newcomer it is important that you understand what that means. If your boating experience has been on lakes or waters where there is no tide, your first experience in coastal waters could be most interesting. Especially for those enjoying watching you try to dock with wind and tide opposing. Due to our unique shoreline, Georgia experiences high tides as much as three to seven times higher than our neighbors both to the north and the south.
We experience tons of water constantly moving either out to sea or inland averaging three to five knots per hour. That is a formidable force that you can be thoroughly frustrated by, especially around docks and other boats.
There is also the matter of USCG aids to navigation involving the Inter-Coastal Waterway, (ICW), being very different from those in inland waters. Take a boating class offered by the Coast Guard Aux. I guarantee you that you will learn something new about boating, boating safety and hopefully, common courtesy and consideration for others on the water. This is not Lake Lanier!
It is the responsibility of the skipper and crew of any boat to be constantly aware of what is ahead of them in the water. There are sandbars that come up as the tide goes out that can ruin your day. They can be just deep enough to leave no indication on the surface of their presence and high enough to take off your prop and cause injurious sudden stops. Go slow till you are thoroughly familiar with local waters.
Your boat should be equipped with a VHF radio and a GPS to set waypoints during good weather, good visibility and high tides for future navigation when the opposite might be the case. Always have lots of drinking water. A dead engine or a grounding for a few hours without water is dangerous to your health. A stainless steel prop is preferred. One pass over a shallow sandbar can wad up your aluminum prop like cardboard. Add to that the mandatory safety equipment required by the USCG.
The constant shifting flow of water from the upper reaches of our five fresh water rivers produces some very hazardous obstacles in the water like partially submerged logs large enough to take the bottom out of your boat but literally invisible until you are on top of them. Oyster rakes and abandoned crab traps offer more obstacles.
Watch your fuel consumption. If your gas gauge is accurate, when you approach half a tank it is time to go home!
Again, it is the responsibility of the skipper and passengers to be aware of what is ahead of the boat. Especially when it comes to our marine life. The coast of Georgia with 450,000 square acres of salt marsh estuaries is a breeding ground, a nursery and safe haven for marine life. It is home to hundreds of the amazing Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins.
The Atlantic bottlenose Dolphin is subject to harm from neglectful, uninformed boaters thru boat strike and human contact. Dolphins are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, (MMPA), which provides for severe fines. Harassment of an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin is simply defined as any act performed by a human that alters the dolphin’s natural behavior.
The ocean operates on sound. Dolphins depend on sound for their existence. They use sound to find their prey, avoid their predators, socialize and communicate. The below surface roar of a marine engine can create a very confusing environment for a dolphin. It would be like losing your eyesight and hearing in heavy traffic.
The rules of engagement between boats, people and dolphins are simple. Don’t engage. Contrary to popular assumption, they can’t always swim fast enough to avoid a speeding boat. When you see dolphins in the water, slow down! Never, by law, go any closer than fifty yards. They can be curious and seem almost sociable. They will approach your boat out of curiosity. If a dolphin approaches your boat with its mouth open, it is most probably begging. It has been fed by humans and thus taught to go to boats to feed. Nothing could be more dangerous for the dolphin.
Never try to feed them, not even fish or left over bait. Certainly never try to touch them or swim with them. Dolphin are subject to the same infections and disease as humans. You can transmit to them and them to you! They can become ill from eating dead bait, left over trash fish and garbage like potato chips etc. Cancer related ulcerations of the mouth and esophagus can be the result.
Dolphin appear to be smiling. They are not. The shape of their mouth has to do with filtration of water and food. They are wild animals, not your friend. Observe them and enjoy them at a distance. Let them decide how close they want to come to you. Banging on the side of the boat or any attempt to draw them to you is a violation of the MMPA.
If a dolphin approaches your boat be sure your engine is out of gear with no turning propeller. Enjoy the show but no touching, no feeding. You can be accidentally bitten. By tying to interact with a dolphin you can inadvertently train them to alter their natural behavior in a way that can lead to sickness and early death.
The Dolphin Project based in Richmond Hill is a volunteer organization doing educational outreach and photo surveys of the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. Contact them for additional information on educational outreach, training and participation at 912 657-3927.
Enjoy the wonderful marshes and waters of coastal Georgia and our wildlife. Be a safe, courteous boater. Be a good steward of one of the most unique shorelines in the world and its inhabitants.
Hubbard is a retired Green Beret and curator of Richmond Hill History Museum.