Photo of Capt. Gus holding a trophy bass.

Safe Boating

The Fourth of July weekend is arguably the busiest boating weekend of the summer season.
It’s also a time when many boaters will hit the bottom of the lake and damage a propeller or ground the vessel.

Lake Norman is notorious for its rock piles, stump fields and sandbars. Many are covered by only a foot or two of water during the summer months. Danger spots are everywhere. While channel/shoal markers and buoys identify some of the hazards, many of them are not identified. That is why “Boater Beware” should always be on your mind when navigating the lake. The following reminders could help make your holiday boating a bit safer.

Red and Green Channel Markers:
Stay between the red and green markers where the water is deep. When traveling upstream, the red markers should be to your right and the green ones to your left. The numbers displayed on the markers will get higher as you go upriver.

Channel Marker Adjacent to Shoal Marker(s):
DO NOT PASS between a red and white or green and white set of markers. This is NOT the channel. The markers indicate that the area between them is hazardous.

Most of Lake Norman’s beautiful islands are continuations of adjacent points of land. The water between the point and the island is often very shallow. Therefore, to avoid stumps, rocks and gravel, it is prudent to maneuver around the outside of the island. Few island passes afford adequate warning information.

The dictionary defines a shoal as “a shallow place in a body of water”. While some are noted with diamond shaped white signs on poles or buoy markers, Norman has too many shallow spots to identify all of them.

Rocks are a boater’s worst underwater enemy. They damage or destroy hundreds of boat propellers annually. Rocks and rock piles are scattered throughout Lake Norman. Most are not identified.

Pilings obstruct the view of oncoming boat traffic. For this reason, area bridges are considered no-wake zones. No wake means NO WAKE. If you can see a wake behind your boat, you are going too fast.  Also consider a boat’s vertical clearance when passing beneath a bridge. Bridge clearances change with the water level and with wave and boat wake disturbances.

Catawba River:
The river section of Lake Norman from Buffalo Shoals north to Lookout Shoals Dam is not marked. During periods of low water levels, portions of the river channel are not navigable. It is unwise to venture north of Bill’s Marina unless you are in a shallow draft boat and with someone who is familiar with the channel.

Moving Water:
Water current poses another set of opportunities for a possible grounding. It is important to note that water runs continuously in the discharge canals at the Marshall and McGuire Power Stations. Strong currents also occur upriver during flooding conditions and as water is being discharged from Lookout Shoals Dam.

Protruding Structures:
Water intakes and long boat docks that extend well out into the water are particularly dangerous when navigating at night. These structures are not always lighted and often lack reflective devices to make them visible. To avoid hitting them, run a course well off the shoreline.

Unlit Aids to Navigation and Boats:
Not all markers, buoys or other boats are lighted at night. Keep a spotlight ready and insist that everyone help watch after dark.

Towing Services:
In the event you do run aground, damage a prop or need a boat towing service 24/7, save the numbers below:
Sea Tow – 704 895 8699
Tow Boat US – 704 200 1930

Upcoming events:
Free Safe Boating Class
– “How to Navigate Lake Norman Day or Night” will be held at The Peninsula Yacht Club, 18501 Harbor Light Blvd, Cornelius, NC at 6:30 p.m. on July 13th. Becky Johnson and I will cover “Understanding LKN’s Channel Marker and Buoy System”, “How to Avoid Shallow Water”, “Ten Most Dangerous Spots”, and “Interpreting Lake Maps”. For more information, call Ashley at 704 892 7575.

Free Fishing Seminar – “The Planning and Preparation for a Great Fishing Trip”. Jake Bussolini will conduct this ninety-minute seminar beginning at 6:30 p.m. on July 20th at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, Mooresville, NC. For additional information, call 704 658 0822.

Tips from Gus: Don’t leave the dock without a map or chart of the area. Lake Norman maps are available on line at and at convenience stores, marinas and tackle shops surrounding the lake.

Hot Spot of the Week: Bass are schooling on the surface throughout the day and are being caught on top-water lures, Whopper Ploppers, Rat-L-Traps, buck tails and spoons. Some stripers and hybrids are deep in Mountain Creek and in the river channel from Marker 13, south to Marker 3. White perch fishing is outstanding. Reports of 100 or more perch per trip are common. Catfishing is very good.

The surface water temperature varies by location, but is mainly in the high eighties in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.3 ‘ below full pond on Lake Norman and 3.4’ below full on Mountain Island Lake.