Making wakes: Large tour boats on Powell are putting other lake-goers at risk

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Waterbaby

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http://azdailysun.com/news/local/ma...cle_d5959396-d065-5d07-be09-95273e289074.html

Making wakes: Large tour boats on Powell are putting other lake-goers at risk



It was June of last year when Tucson resident Paul Carey and his family were vacationing in Lake Powell, cruising slowly through the winding curves of Antelope Channel. Carey was sitting on the family’s 23-foot motorboat when his friend told him to hold on because some waves were coming. The group on the boat estimated waves four to seven feet high were peeling off the passing tour boat operated by area concessionaire Aramark.

Before he could react, Carey was thrown up into the air and landed hard back on the boat. The pain was “in a word excruciating,” Carey said. He said his wife remembers his face immediately twisting into a grimace.

Medics determined Carey’s back was fractured and he was airlifted to Flagstaff for immediate back surgery. Months later, he has racked up more than $104,000 in medical bills and is still struggling to get back to his job installing water vending equipment. He is suing Aramark for damages in federal district court.

Carey’s story is one of dozens of serious, and sometimes fatal, accidents that happen on Lake Powell every year that are caused by everything from reckless boating to driving under the influence to bad weather.

But wakes from tour boats top the list when it comes to the most frequent cause of injuries seen by medical staff at Page Hospital, said Sue Gibason a registered nurse in the hospital’s emergency department and intensive care unit. People end up with spinal compression fractures after being thrown up and landing hard on their back or butt as the smaller boats bounce over waves thrown off by the much larger boats, Gibason said.

“They always tell us it was the darn tour boats,” she said.

INJURIES ON THE LAKE
While wakes are the top culprit for putting people in the local hospital, they make up a much smaller proportion of all injuries recorded by officials at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

According to lake dispatchers, for example, wakes like those that tossed Carey accounted for just nine of the 573 total injuries reported at Glen Canyon between 2012 and 2015, said Christiana Admiral, the area’s chief of interpretation. The U.S. Coast Guard, which collects federally mandated reports for more serious accidents, recorded 40 wake-related injuries on the lake since 2005. That’s about half the number of accidents caused by weather and operator inattention and below the 54 injuries caused by operator inexperience.

When it comes to fatalities, not wearing a life jacket, reckless boating and boating under the influence top the list of causes, Admiral said.

But wakes, and especially wakes generated by Aramark’s larger tour boats merit particular attention because the company holds a concession contract on the lake, said Joe Watkins, Carey’s Tucson-based lawyer. Because of that competitive advantage, the company should be held to an elevated standard as to the impact of its operations on other recreationists, Watkins said.

“If you are a kayaker or family boater or a fisherman you shouldn’t expect to be in the position of being knocked out of your boat or capsized just because they run these big boats on the lake,” Watkins said. “The reasonable expectation is that park concessionaires accommodate the public they are there to serve.”

Aramark’s first concession contract on Lake Powell dates back to 1969 and the company offers a variety of tours across the southern part of the lake to places like Antelope Canyon, Rainbow Bridge National Monument and Glen Canyon Dam.

Antelope Point Marina & Resort, another park concessionaire, also offers lake tours, but the boats used are a twin pontoon style, allowing water to pass underneath the boat, which marine experts say creates less wake than Aramark’s boats.

For its part, Aramark could change over its fleet to a lower-wake design, which is what Watkins is pushing for, or the company could reduce the speed of its boats to minimize the wakes they create. That action would be voluntary though because there is no speed limit on Lake Powell -- current federal laws only require a wakeless speed when a boat is within 100 feet of another vessel and in a no-wake zone.

WASHBOARD EFFECT
The risk of wakes has been well communicated within the park and to the company itself, said Mark Suttie, who was the safety officer at Lake Powell until last year and before that worked as Aramark’s director of marine services for 23 years.

“Across the board whether park staff or Aramark staff, the hazards involved with boats striking large wakes is a well known hazard,” Suttie said.

Lake Powell itself is especially dangerous when it comes to wake risk because the waves hit the vertical canyon walls and ricochet back with nearly the same amount of energy, creating a sort of washboard effect, said Agusto “Kiko” Villalon, a marine consultant who has worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard. Because wake is a function of speed, size and weight, the 50 to 80-foot tour boats are inherently more problematic because they displace more water, he said. An added challenge is blind curves in the lake’s channels and canyons that make it harder to anticipate oncoming boats and notice the wake left behind by a boat farther ahead.

The recreation area itself, which is managed by the National Park Service, took a deeper dive into wake risk several years ago and in 2009 published a report on the topic. While nearly all boats throw off some sort of wake, the NPS research showed that between July 2008 and July 2009 half of the wake-related injuries were caused by the tour boats.

The report’s recommendations included increased education and awareness about wake risk and how visitors should approach wake when they see it, better enforcement of local, state and federal navigational rules and encouraging Aramark to invest in newer vessels with alternative hull designs that produce less wake. The same recommendation for Aramark was made after a 2006 study by Villalon of the death of a motorboat operator after the boat jumped oncoming wake from a tour boat, broke into pieces and sank in deep water

The 2009 report also noted that throughout its study, “Aramark’s director of rates and vice president restricted interaction with all Aramark employees. This was and will continue to be an obstacle to working together to improve visitor safety.”

In response to recent requests for interviews, Aramark Spokesman David Freireich emailed a response that “we regularly consult with both the Coast Guard and National Park Service to ensure we are in compliance with rules and regulations for safely operating tour boats on the Lake and are committed to safely sharing and navigating the waterways with all boaters and recreational watercraft users.”

The park is in the process of developing a new concession contract prospectus and plans to address the issue of boat hull design to minimize wake, Admiral said. There is no timeline on when that process will be finalized though.

Suttie said he repeatedly pressed the company to invest in new boats not only for safety but also for cost savings and fuel efficiency. The company doesn’t have a great track record of replacing boats that are out of date, he said.

“I’m just one person that would have loved to see some modern boats. I’ve made a lot of arguments for them to no avail,” he said.

Suttie said he sees the reasoning behind the company’s resistance though. The new boats are expensive and after Aramark’s lower and upper lake contracts expired in 1998 and 2007 respectively, the company has been operating under one- and two-year extensions, making it hard to make a $3 to $4 million investment without a guaranteed contract, Suttie said. He also said it’s not only tour boats but also large private cruisers that deserve blame for generating large wakes, a point made by the Park Service in its 2009 report as well.

It’s understandable that to give guests a comprehensive tour of the lake tour boats need to speed up beyond a wakeless speed, the problem is they aren’t staying in places where the lake is wide enough to safely accommodate them, Villalon said.

“They like to go into canyons where they can give tourists sense of beauty of Powell,” he said.
 

Dale

Well-Known Member
Aramark does not give a "darn"! The only way to get their attention is for a really good slimeball slip & fall lawyer to gather enough people who have been hurt or had their boat damaged to file a $Multi Billion class action lawsuit!
 

Ryan

Well-Known Member
Very interesting read.

I have mixed emotions on this one.

The part where they mention wakeless is only required if within 100' of another boat and on a wakeless area doesn't make sense.

And the part about in the process of developing a new contract is encouraging.

The way I read the report makes it look like there are not many injuries reported due to the tour boats.
 

potter water

Well-Known Member
Read however anyone wants, but the facts are that for every "accident" there are hundreds of swampings that ruin the fun for families. Also the tour boats are continually in violation of the 100 foot rule which is in itself a bad rule. It isn't possible in canyons and most areas of the lake for the tour boats to stay 100 feet away from other boats. Not that 100 feet is enough room for waves to even begin to settle. The only answer is for Aramark to shut down their tour boat fleet until they replace them with cats. Or unless they stay off plane and make much longer tour times. Not gonna happen because Aramark is for profit. I think that a single concessionaire is the problem. At least, if other TOUR concessionaires were allowed on the lake that used modern big cats, the competition could solve the whole problem. Single multi-year concessionaires are a plague on the U.S. park systems.
 

birdsnest

Well-Known Member
Or the NPS could just issue baubblewrap for all its visitors. Make sure all fishing equipment does not have hooks, make sure no one gets in that dangerous water. Maybe we better just close this dangerous place. Are we not responsible for recognizing hazards and doing what is necessary to minimize them. For every person injured there are thousands that seemed to get along just fine. Of course the tour boat is a hazard but how have so many people accepted it for what it is and got on with their day? I've seen people out of their cars taking pictures of elk in the rutting season, what's the difference? Actually there is a difference, you know what the tour boat is going to do, make a wave. Situational awareness rules.
 
Dumb question, but I haven't been on the south end of the lake for a loooooong time. Headed down there next week with a smaller boat (and lower freeboard) than I have taken on the south end in the past. If the tour boat wake really is 4-7', I'd appreciate any tips for my family's survival!
 

Goblin

Well-Known Member
From the Sun article said:
...-- current federal laws only require a wakeless speed when a boat is within 100 feet of another vessel and in a no-wake zone.
... Also the tour boats are continually in violation of the 100 foot rule which is in itself a bad rule. It isn't possible in canyons and most areas of the lake for the tour boats to stay 100 feet away from other boats. Not that 100 feet is enough room for waves to even begin to settle...
Much like the axiom, "All maps are wrong" when it comes to any news story, "All news stories are wrong." Not in their entirety, but in at last some salient respects.
  1. There is no federal wakeless law. The wakeless laws are in the state laws which are consistent on wakeless rules.
  2. Those state laws set the wakeless distance at 150 feet and not 100 feet.
  3. And that rule should be "or" in a no-wake zone not "and" in a no-wake zone
  4. Every boat is also responsible/liable for any damage/harm that it's wake causes regardless of the distances involved.
As far as canyon widths are concerned, this statement, " It wasn't possible in canyons and most areas of the lake for me to stay 150 feet away from other boats when above wakeless speed."
That is not an excuse, it is a confession!

I believe any boater is remiss in their responsibility as the captain of a vessel for not knowing and following these rules.
FWIW,
Goblin
 
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Ryan

Well-Known Member
Read however anyone wants, but the facts are that for every "accident" there are hundreds of swampings that ruin the fun for families.
I would be interested to see your data point for this "fact".

At some point, personal responsibility does have to come into play. One needs to know the abilities and limitations of their watercraft, and act accordingly.

We are in agreement in your point that the single concessionaire at Powell is a significant problem. I don't have an answer to that one. But I don't think anyone does.
 

Ryan

Well-Known Member
Dumb question, but I haven't been on the south end of the lake for a loooooong time. Headed down there next week with a smaller boat (and lower freeboard) than I have taken on the south end in the past. If the tour boat wake really is 4-7', I'd appreciate any tips for my family's survival!
You just have to know your boat, and how it will handle. The tour boats do put out a huge wake, but even in my little 16' Lund, I wouldn't be worried about "getting swamped". Run fast enough that you are bow up, and take the wakes at an angle would be my suggestion. Same as I would do with a large cruiser.
 

Xpress

Active Member
Dumb question, but I haven't been on the south end of the lake for a loooooong time. Headed down there next week with a smaller boat (and lower freeboard) than I have taken on the south end in the past. If the tour boat wake really is 4-7', I'd appreciate any tips for my family's survival!
Go uplake at first light and travel before the big boats get going. Make sure you camp in a spot where you can't be exposed to the main lake.
Have fun.
 

Ryan

Well-Known Member
Much like the axiom, "All maps are wrong" when it comes to any news story, "All news stories are wrong." Not in their entirety, but in at last some salient respects.
  1. There is no federal wakeless law. The wakeless laws are in the state laws which are consistent on wakeless rules.
  2. Those state laws set the wakeless distance at 150 feet and not 100 feet.
  3. And that rule should be "or" in a no-wake zone not "and" in a no-wake zone
  4. Every boat is also responsible/liable for in damage/harm that it's wake causes regardless of the distances involved.
As far as canyon widths are concerned, this statement, " It wasn't possible in canyons and most areas of the lake for me to stay 150 feet away from other boats when above wakeless speed."
That is not an excuse, it is a confession!

I believe any boater is remiss in their responsibility as the captain of a vessel for not knowing and following these rules.
FWIW,
Goblin
I would push back some on your last point. Not to harp, but there is some personal responsibility involved. If I do a bad job of tying my boat to a dock/shore, or use worn out equipment that is bound to fail, and a boat comes by on plane, it could cause damage to my boat, but I would argue that it was due to my own incompetence. Or, if I had my mom (lost to ALS) in the boat and a wake (large or small) caused her to lose her balance and fall and break a hip, I would say that is my responsibility, not the other boater.

And I know that the 150' is the law, but it is never enforced. In fact, I have had NPS come well within 150' of me when I am on the main channel up on plane. IMO, if a law is routinely violated, it should be reevaluated. To me, that one is a prime example.
 

Goblin

Well-Known Member
Seven feet is being a bit generous but 4 feet is possible. In any case the tour boats can be VERY ugly if at speed and anywhere near your path. On houseboats, contents of drawers are commonly strewn about the cabin and refrigerators have even been toppled.

My first and worst experience was a tour boat that slowed and came close to out houseboat apparently to show the guests a houseboat up close. I relaxed. The pilot then sped up and when they passed us a wave came though the open front door washing up to the kitchen island. Had to go swimming to get the cooler that had also washed off of the front deck. We got off easy.

That was about 20 years ago an since then I have managed to NOT have a bad experience by doing the following:
  1. Keep your head on a swivel and spot them early. The ominous deeper hulled tour boats are easy to spot at speed from several miles off by the whitewater wake and spray kicking off of them. Enlist any guests to alert you if they see one and when they say something just say "Thank You." As such they will feel like they are helping even if you are an old eagle eye.
  2. The instant your target is acquired immediately start to gain lateral separation that's available. A turn up to 45 degrees away angling off works if space is available. Same way, same day, a speedboat can outrun one but a houseboat cannot, so don't even try. The desired amount of separation is as much as possible. A quarter mile is usually not excessive. Experience will teach judgement but in most cases you will never have tooo much separation. I've never heard anyone say, "Boy I think I set those anchors too securely here at Powell." I personally have always had a day or two every trip that caused me to make a deal with God. If he would just let me get through this wind, I'd promise to set them better next trip. Separation from the Wave Monster of the Inland Seas is very similar except things happen much quicker so you may not die, all tensed up. :eek:
  3. Turn back to meet the wake at about a 45 degree angle after obtaining whatever separation you can.
  4. I also take a look at the tour schedules and thereby know when to expect to have a conflict. This also allows you to anticipate the path they will be following:
    upload_2017-7-12_15-45-40.png
  5. Be also aware that in the Narrows, or any rock walled portion, any waves will bounce back and forth allowing you to fully enjoy the wave action multiple times from a single wave. :confused:o_O
  6. Since I've been following the above suggestions most of the guests I've had on board were unaware that there was anything unusual going on.
Good luck,
Goblin
 
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Seven feet is being a bit generous but 4 feet is possible. In any case the tour boats can be VERY ugly if at speed and anywhere near your path. On houseboats, contents of drawers are commonly strewn about the cabin and refrigerators have even been toppled.

My first and worst experience was a tour boat that slowed and came close to out houseboat apparently to show the guests a houseboat up close. I relaxed. The pilot then sped up and when they passed us a wave came though the open front door washing up to the kitchen island. Had to go swimming to get the cooler that had also washed off of the front deck. We got off easy.

That was about 20 years ago an since then I have managed to NOT have a bad experience by doing the following:
  1. Keep your head on a swivel and spot them early. The ominous deeper hulled tour boats are easy to spot at speed from several miles off by the whitewater wake and spray kicking off of them. Enlist any guests to alert you if they see one and when they say something just say "Thank You." As such they will feel like they are helping even if you are an old eagle eye.
  2. The instant your target is acquired immediately start to gain lateral separation that's available. A turn up to 45 degrees away angling off works if space is available. Same way, same day, a speedboat can outrun one but a houseboat cannot, so don't even try. The desired amount of separation is as much as possible. A quarter mile is usually not excessive. Experience will teach judgement but in most cases you will never have tooo much separation. I've never heard anyone say, "Boy I think I set those anchors too securely here at Powell." I personally have always had a day or two every trip that caused me to make a deal with God. If he would just let me get through this wind, I'd promise to set them better next trip. Separation from the Wave Monster of the Inland Seas is very similar except things happen much quicker so you may not die, all tensed up. :eek:
  3. Turn back to meet the wake at about a 45 degree angle after obtaining whatever separation you can.
  4. I also take a look at the tour schedules and thereby know when to expect to have a conflict. This also allows you to anticipate the path they will be following:
    View attachment 751
  5. Be also aware that in the Narrows, or any rock walled portion, any waves will bounce back and forth allowing you to full enjoy the wave action multiple times from a single wave. :confused:o_O
  6. Since I've been following the above suggestions most of the guests I've had on board were unaware that there was anything unusual going on.
Good luck,
Goblin
Great info--thanks! Last time I was on that end of the lake years ago, we were in a 28' cabin cruiser and the driver at the time thought it would be fun to show our new-to-LP friends what a little speed would mean when hitting a tour boat wake. We had a healthy distance between us and the tour boat, but, well, it was one for the ages when our entire boat was out of the water. The landing wasn't as soft as anticipated. I haven't let that driver drive my boat on LP since :)

I love the north end of the lake, but most of my experiences at LP as a kid were at the south end--excited to get back down there!
 

Goblin

Well-Known Member
I would push back some on your last point. Not to harp, but there is some personal responsibility involved. If I do a bad job of tying my boat to a dock/shore, or use worn out equipment that is bound to fail, and a boat comes by on plane, it could cause damage to my boat, but I would argue that it was due to my own incompetence. Or, if I had my mom (lost to ALS) in the boat and a wake (large or small) caused her to lose her balance and fall and break a hip, I would say that is my responsibility, not the other boater.

And I know that the 150' is the law, but it is never enforced. In fact, I have had NPS come well within 150' of me when I am on the main channel up on plane. IMO, if a law is routinely violated, it should be reevaluated. To me, that one is a prime example.
My last point was just referencing the law which states you are responsible/liable for any damage your wake causes regardless of whether your wake was generated legally. That's all. Certainly in our litigious society you can expect disagreement in court. I doubt an argument of, he shoulda used a bigger rope will float very far, pardon the pun.

Are you in favor of reevaluated the murder, rape and armed robbery laws since they are routinely violated? Or are you just in favor of reevaluating the laws you don't adhere to? Just sayin'.

Goblin
 

birdsnest

Well-Known Member
How many times have I got the crew to keep the canned goods from falling out of the cabinets. And yes the coolers can topple/slide around. Funny story off subject. Was on the houseboat loading dock at Stateline responding to a low battery alarm on a c,o. detecter and watched a lady put just one more can of corn in an overhead cabinet and the entire cabinet tore off the wall landing on the floor. Scared the crap out of her. Who knows what a tour boat wake would have done.
You just have to know your boat, and how it will handle. The tour boats do put out a huge wake, but even in my little 16' Lund, I wouldn't be worried about "getting swamped". Run fast enough that you are bow up, and take the wakes at an angle would be my suggestion. Same as I would do with a large cruiser.
I had a 16' skiff that I never had any trouble with wakes. just sayin.
 

Goblin

Well-Known Member
Slightly off-topic kinda sorta. Since we are partly on the subject of swampings I would have to warn anyone new to the south end about the Maytag Straits and the Narrows. Heavy traffic cause waves to bounce back and forth causing considerable chop and turbulence. It is far better since the Cut has been deepened and helped ease the traffic density. but still

I don't recommend anyone tow a boat with scant freeboard, like a MasterCraft, through any of those narrow areas during high traffic times. I have seen a number of nice boats being recovered there. In a similar vein, if you are going to tow any vessel try to keep the leash short enough to keep your tow in your wake or long enough (**50'+) to allow the boat to freely ride the many wakes/waves it will have to navigate perhaps out of sync with the tow vessel.

That's two cents worth and I hope I'm not overcharging you. Others may have differing perspectives.

**50 feet is a WOM and the distance can vary depending on the tow vessel and stretch ability of the towline.
 

birdsnest

Well-Known Member
tag-a-long boat towing distance is indeed important and the types of boats being towed is an important consideration but I don't think there is much substitute for experience. For example pulling a 22' pontoon boat and a 16' tracker fishing boat and a 21' glastron behind a 46' houseboat takes a little thought and a fair amount of confidence. Not really a big deal but it takes someone to be the captain. As with so many things Lake Powell, what seems to be an intuitive event for the initiated is a huge challenge for the newbies. That's one of the reasons I love this site. I love to share to encourage the adventurous. Maybe I've just been lucky but I don't think so, just reasonable prudence has sufficed to put me uplake to many times to count without a dangerous incident with normal towing procedures. That's not to say someone inexperienced can't swamp or the weather can't take you down. Again situational awareness
 

birdsnest

Well-Known Member
I've never heard of the Maytag straits but Powell is full of nicknames for particular runs. I would guess that the Maytag straits is the stretch between the dam and Antelope Marina. Whatever that stretch is now called, I have purposely screwed with a couple buddies that were playing xbox on the houseboat. I hit every wave I could. Symptoms started with sweating, next was nausea. I laughed my butt off. Please realize these same guys found pleasure in messing with me at every opportunity. I love Powell!!!!
 
I know some people dislike the tour boat waves and can be dangerous; however, every time I see one coming I like it! There is something about going up and down over the waves that make it exciting. My kids love it! But, I am also smart enough not to take the waves head on in my boat or go 30 MPH over the waves!
 
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