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Riding the River: Boating Safely on our Rivers

10/17/2018  |  BY rfw

Many of us have ventured north to the Great Lakes and witnessed the majesty of those wide waters. Some have even been lucky enough to venture out on the lakes on a pleasure cruise. So boating on the river must be the same experience, right? Well, not exactly. While boating on the river is permitted and can be quite enjoyable, operating a boat on the downtown rivers is not the same as on lakes. Because of how close river boaters are to the shore, other boaters, and people enjoying riverside activities, there are some specific boating safety guidelines we ask all to follow.


When boats move quickly, they make waves, which are called their “wake.” “No Wake Zones” are common close to marinas to minimize the rocking of boats against the docks where they are secured. This movement can seriously damage boats and docks, and it can create a danger for boaters walking along the docks.

We are seeing more and more docks on downtown rivers (which is great!) and most of them are floating types to accommodate the changing river levels. The means boaters must slow down when approaching docks, slowing the boat to idle speed well before approaching the dock. This will allow the wake generated by the boat to move to shore and dissipate before reaching the dock or any tied up watercraft. It is common for boaters to misjudge this distance and allow their wake to severely rock the docks and other boats, creating a potential hazard to property and other people enjoying the rivers.

When boating on rivers it is also proper etiquette to slow down when approaching other boats, fishermen on shore, and human powered craft such as canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.

Aside from safety, a slow to moderate boat speed will enhance the river boating experience by allowing you to see the abundant wildlife along the rivers without scaring them away due to the noise and wake of a speeding boat. Along the rivers, boaters can see birds like Great Blue Herons, King Fishers, Eagles, Hawks, Cliff Swallows, Wood Ducks, and Canada Geese. You can also see mammals such as river otters, beavers, muskrats, groundhogs, raccoons, fox, and deer. But wait! There’s more! A river trip will allow you to see amphibians like turtles, frogs, and salamanders, crustaceans like crawdads and reptiles like snakes. Whew, you definitely need to slow down to see all that.


One of the magical experiences of being on Fort Wayne’s rivers is being surrounded by nature and wildlife and feeling like you’re out in the country while knowing you’re still in the heart of the city. Many new to the rivers don’t realize that as close as a hundred feet away – just beyond the tree line or earthen levee – may be a neighborhood or a business or even a major boulevard.

Sound carries long distances over water. Therefore, the roar of a speeding boat, the blare of a loud radio or the raised voices of people trying to talk to each other over the noise of the speeding boat and music can not only disturb fellow boaters, but can also be heard by neighbors in adjacent homes.

And this brings us back to safety. Although speeding over the water can be a fun experience, the narrow winding downtown rivers – with the potential of other boaters just around the corner out of sight – is not the place for fast moving boats. The distraction of loud noise along with excessive speed can prevent boaters from noticing other crafts in the water, which is a recipe for disaster.

Again, we want everyone to enjoy our rivers and the calming effects of nature as you drift through the city’s amazing waterways. Just a little awareness can take you and your boating crew a long way.


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