Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Being Seen

Most of the time you don’t want to be heard or seen, but there are times when life and limb demand that you are. By all accounts I’ve read on the subject, there appear to be two concerns on the St. Johns River with regards to airboats. When paddling through reed and grass areas, a paddler is often obscured by the grass. Since airboats don’t always follow the channel, they can come flying off a mud bank or out of the grass from any direction. Traveling at 45mph over land or up to 135 mph on water, they can run you down without ever seeing you. 

Photo credit: James Parker, Pensacola
Yes, it looks unconventional, but it works.
It is recommended that a paddler carry a fluorescent bicycle flag on a whip during the day. Both the Kruger Sea Wind and the Superior Expedition have a sturdy anodized pole that is used to join two boats together as a catamaran in heavy weather conditions. I routinely carry mine as a capsize pole. It slides into a sleeve that spans the cockpit coaming, and I keep an old PFD and paddle float secured to the end to help me get back into the boat if I’ve accidentally gone swimming. I previously have fastened a pig stick to the top of the pole with a USPS ensign on it. That will get the flag six to seven feet into the air, both higher and larger than a bike flag would be, and should make me clearly visible during the day. I’ve used this method before in areas that abound with flying bass boats. (Pig stick - two dowels fastened together, one on a swivel and collar. The flag is secured to it, and it rotates so the flag always streams smoothly without ever getting wrapped around the stick.)

ACR Firefly Plus Model 1916
At night, there are many campsites that are routinely used by airboats who often arrive after dark. They will come flying right up on land and across the grass to reach their favorite campsite. It you can’t pitch your tent among the trees, that puts your tent in the traffic way. It’s a good idea to hang a light or lantern on your tent to be seen at night. I have an ACR Firefly Plus Model 1916 light Jean gave me a number of years ago. It has a strobe at one end for emergencies, and a flashlight at the other end. That should serve nicely to meet needs at night.

Airboats are used mostly in the upper river where the water is thin and there is a lot of marsh. The further one gets down river, the less the risk. I’ve seen an airboat as far down river as Palatka, but that’s extremely rare. Admittedly the risks are minimal, but so is getting hit by lightning, and the old Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.”


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