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Much Ado About Rafting Up

In recent years, the practice of “rafting up” or “tying up” on the lake has been gaining popularity. At the same time it has also been gaining notoriety. At some lakes it is causing disputes that are taking all the fun out of being at the lake.

Rafting up or tying up is the term used to describe the anchoring, mooring, tying, fastening linking or joining of any combination of six or more vessels together in close proximity with one another. Generally, a group of friends will agree to meet on their boats in a quiet cove area, away from houses, public docks, and the main channel. Once there, they put out an anchor or two, tie their boats together, and spend a quiet afternoon enjoying each other’s company, the water, some tunes, snacks and beverages. A raft up is a great way to enjoy the lake with friends and family. It also usually involves some aspects of a party, as any social gathering might. As long as it fits this general description, there is not usually a problem with a raft-up. In some cases, however, the group that decides to gather becomes extremely large. When this happens, someone usually complains about noise, trash and behaviors, and the local government tends to get involved.

Once the raft up group gets very large, the things that they are doing can become a nuisance to other boaters and homeowners. It is one thing to see a dozen boats tied together having a nice time floating on the lake. It is quite another when the boats number in the several hundreds, and the attendees in the thousands. Larger groups tend to have at least a few individuals who may behave in ways that others find discourteous or offensive. Age appears to have little to do with it, but sometimes the younger crowd tends to be a little wilder and more apt to play loud music and promote nudity. There is a group dynamic that takes effect that tends to encourage more outrageous behavior, despite the initial good intentions of all involved. Maybe it is the Homer Simpson in all of us that comes out in a crowd.

The question becomes, where do you draw the line? The lake is a public area, so who is to say whose rights to be there are more important? Should the people who want peace and quiet have precedence, or the people who want to have a fun party? Should homeowners have precedence over day boaters? Officials at some lakes have tried to break up the raft ups, but usually all they manage to do is move the party to another location. This is a very gray area, and there are no simple legislative answers.

This issue brings me back to a basic problem that occurs at lakes. Whenever there are people whose use of the lake differs, they tend to resent each other. The fishermen don’t like the jet skiers, the pontoon boaters don’t like the wakeboarders, the skiers don’t like the tubers. Now, the quieter lake users don’t like the rowdy lake users. Yet they all have one very basic and important thing in common, they are there to enjoy the lake. It is obvious that everyone needs to respect the rights of others to enjoy the lake. Instead, I am constantly surprised by the amount and intensity of dislike between the different groups.

If everyone displayed as much courtesy as possible to all other users of the lake everyone would benefit. Remember the Golden Rule we all learned as children – Do to others, as you would have them do to you. This rule becomes even more important when there are more ‘others’ around. As lakes get more and more crowded, there are more opportunities to be offended by someone else’s behavior, or use of the lake. When populations rise, the pressure caused by people being crowded together builds. We have to be more tolerant of more people, doing more different things. What they are doing may not agree with our idea of fun, and we may wish they were doing it elsewhere. But do we have the right to prevent them from enjoying the lake the way they want to?

Are the existing laws good enough to protect everyone’s rights at the lake? I would hope so. Safe boating practices alone should be enough to prevent people from consuming too much alcohol to safely operate a boat, cutting off other boats, driving too close to other boats or docks, pulling skiers after dark, or playing music so loudly a distress call can’t be heard. Anyone breaking those rules should be dealt in accordance with the local standards.

One of the many attractions the lake has for me is freedom. After adhering to the safe boating rules, there is not an overabundance of other rules. I had my fill of public pools and beaches. There are too many rules, such as requiring 10 minutes of time out of the water every hour, no running, no playing ball, no swimming before Memorial Day, no swimming before 9 a.m., paying a fee, wearing a badge, not playing any music. The freedom at the lake is one of the reasons I find it so relaxing. We come and go as we please, and as long as we obey safe boating regulations, the Coast Guard leaves us alone. I would prefer that we not over-regulate the use of the lake as we have constrained so many other recreational venues. I don’t think that it should be necessary to do so to protect people’s rights to enjoy the water.

Here is what I try to do to help. I try to be a goodwill ambassador at my lake. I make it a point to smile and wave to other boaters, particularly if they are enjoying a different kind of boat. We not only don’t litter, we police the litter left behind by others. We give right of way to other boats towing riders of any kind. We try not to annoy others with our wake, and obey all posted No Wake Zones. We try to help out other boaters who seem to be in trouble. And when we raft up we welcome anyone to join us, and look forward to meeting new friends.

My advice to one and all is to spend your time at the lake enjoying it more. Spend less time worrying about what other people are doing to enjoy it. Unless they are posing a danger to anyone, wish them well. If they are posing a danger to anyone – even if only to themselves, please do us all a favor and report them to the proper authorities. Safe and happy boating everyone!


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