Low Water Level Means Spike in Costly Boat Crashes

The U.S. Coast Guard is reporting an increase in groundings of boats on rocks or reefs

The low water level on Lake Champlain this summer has led to an increase in boats crashing into exposed rocks and reefs, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

"There's definitely a lot more people striking the bottom of the lake this year," said Petty Officer Second Class Matt Harris at Station Burlington on Lake Champlain.

The problem started with a winter that saw little snowfall, meaning less melted snow flowing into the lake.

Then, this abnormally dry summer has left the water a full half-foot below its average height, according to data from the National Weather Service. The lake height Tuesday was more than sixteen inches off last year's level for the same date, the data showed.

In late summer, lake rocks are already formidable hazards, due to the natural decline in lake height over the course of the summer.

Harris said with Labor Day weekend a big one on the water, he wants boaters to double-check their charts and sonar to avoid crashes into rocks.

"The water's low," Harris warned. "Be careful. No matter how well you know this lake, check the chart, please."

The U.S. Coast Guard said in the summer of 2015, it responded to eight groundings of boats on Lake Champlain that required emergency assistance. This year, that number was up to 19 as of Tuesday morning, the Coast Guard said.

That figure does not count cases reported to other agencies or ones boaters could handle themselves, Harris noted.

Sean Gowland at the Moorings Marina on Malletts Bay in Colchester showed necn a large boat now dry-docked after a recent crash into rocks on Lake Champlain.

"This propeller is unusable," he said, pointed to a propeller with bent and broken blades. "Propellers are finely balanced, so that and this bent drive shaft could really hurt the transmission of the boat."

Gowland said the damage to the boat involved in the crash would likely cost about $20,000 to repair.

"We have seen a few boaters have their season cut short," Gowland told necn. "Certain parts of the lake bottom are more forgiving. When you hit rocks, the rocks always win."

Back at Coast Guard Station Burlington, Petty Officer Second Class Harris said checking proper charts could prevent injuries, save a lot of money, and extend your summer fun.

"And please, do not drink while you're supposed to be paying condition to the water conditions," Harris said.

The National Weather Service in Burlington provides a series of nautical charts of Lake Champlain, on the recreational forecast page of its website.

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