Monday, December 9, 2013
So many times I wonder, when boats and other watercraft tear around lakes at high speed, what the loons are doing.
Does it scare them? Do they get caught in boat motors? Do they struggle to get away from the noise and turbulence?
Will our activity on the water ultimately spell their demise?
At night, as I try to fall asleep, revelers pop off fireworks across the lake. I wonder, does that disturb the loons, too?
I think we need to be protective of these beautiful, exquisite birds who serenade us with their haunting calls, in both sunshine and moonlight.
There's nothing so lovely as dropping off to sleep, the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, loons hooting in the distance.
Call me an old-fashioned Mainer, but loud and fast things make me wince and, as I get older, make me a bit angry.
I am able to get away from fast watercraft; loons cannot escape so easily.
Ear plugs can help mask loud noises for us humans, but loons don't have that option.
The irony is that a loon will paddle alongside a canoeist or kayaker, dipping its head underwater and reappearing, as if to show kinship. Boaters ripping along the water cannot experience that magic.
Beyond my personal distaste for noise and disruption on otherwise placid lakes, the state has laws that regulate the speed at which watercraft may travel.
But not all people abide by those rules.
Often I see boats and personal watercraft traveling faster than headway speed within 200 feet of the shore — in clear violation of Maine law.
"Headway speed means the slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering and control of the vessel," the Boater's Guide to Maine Boating Laws and Responsibilities says.
The guide, issued by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Maine Department of Marine Resources, clearly states that it is illegal to operate a vessel at greater than headway speed while within 200 feet of any shoreline, including islands, or within a marina or approved anchorage.
The exception is this: Vessels may operate at greater than headway speed if someone is fishing from the vessel or following a direct course to pick up or drop off skiers, according to the guide.
People unfamiliar with boating laws may obtain the guide from town offices or by contacting Inland Fisheries. The 64-page booklet contains important information about boating safety and what is and is not allowed.
For instance, it is illegal for watercraft operators to engage in prolonged circling, informal racing, wake jumping or other types of continued and repeated activity.
"Operators also must consider the effect of their vessel's wake on waterfront piers, floats, other property or shorelines," the guide says.
It explains the purpose of navigational aids or buoys in the water. Some warn boaters of rocks or other obstructions, others notify them that there is a speed limit. Some buoys mark places where boaters may operate at headway speed only, yet others let them know no boating is allowed because it is a swimming area.
It's good we have these rules and regulations to save us humans from an apparent tendency to want to go fast and make loud noise.
I could attempt to analyze our propensity for loud and fast, but I suspect identifying the source would likely not effect a change in our behavior.
Regardless, we must be mindful that our beautiful lakes are home to loons and other wildlife. We merely recreate on those waterways.
It is important that we remember not only to protect those creatures and give them wide berth, but also to put their interests before our own.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at email@example.com