By Neil Mathison
On May 28, a Boston Whaler, running at high speed and well into the harbor, hit a log at the southeastern-most point of Brown Island, throwing the driver into the water. The Whaler’s helm jammed right and set it into high-speed circles. Inflatable dinghies, likely from the Seattle Yacht Club Outstation, arrived within minutes to confirm that the boat driver was safely ashore. For the next several hours – yes hours! – the Whaler spun in tight circles escorted by authorities as the Whaler continued to spin out into San Juan Channel.
The cause of this accident was excessive speed in the harbor and failure to use a “kill switch” lanyard.
The larger cause is that there are no harbor speed and wake limits are posted or enforced.
It’s remarkable that no serious injuries or other damage resulted given the increasingly crowded anchorage in Friday Harbor, the greater numbers of boats and the range of types, from kayaks to mega-yachts, that operate here. What if this Whaler had hit another boat? What if it had hit one of the many docks on both sides of the passage? What if it had slammed into a kayaker or a paddleboarder?
There are small “No Wake” signs on Brown Island, but most boaters either don’t see them or choose to ignore them. Increasingly, over the last five years, boats enter and depart the harbor at higher speeds, leaving behind larger wakes. Paradoxically, most are not visitors or large powerboats. Most are neighbors who moor their boats locally. Most are boats in the 20-to-30-foot range with enough horsepower and enough displacement to throw wake-damaging waves onto shoreside docks and other boats. All have the potential to become engines of destruction if their drivers lose control of their speeding vessels.
In the 29 years that we have owned our house, we have often found it hard to find any authority who will acknowledge responsibility for harbor safety. But now, with the Port of Friday Harbor owning three area marinas, maybe it’s time for the Port to step forward and assume responsibility for harbor safety.
Communities have established “no wake” zones in congested areas to mitigate injury and wake damage. In Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez, “no wake” signs are prominently posted. At Pole Pass, between Crane and Orcas, “no wake” buoys have been effective at slowing traffic. On Lake Washington, “no wake” buoys are moored along most of the shoreline. Buoys like these, anchored well clear of ferry routes on both entrances to Friday Harbor, may be precisely what is needed here. Subsequent to the Port’s purchase of Shipyard Cove, a “no-wake” buoy was anchored nearby— a first step, but not enough to keep the harbor safe and damage-free. By that point, even the most reckless boaters have slowed to enter the marinas.
It’s time to recognize that our harbor has become increasingly congested, that boats have become larger, more powerful, throw bigger wakes, have more potential for damage and injury, and that our shoreline has more docks and more moored boats. We need signage, we need “no-wake” buoys, we need speed-limit enforcement.