Letter: Slow Down And Really Enjoy The River

August 26, 2018
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Contributed by Rik Van Hemmen |

The Navesink River is unique resource for the river communities. In researching my book on the historical use of the river, it was clear it always was a source of joy and relaxation and, even to this day, a source of income. It is a source of income for clammers, fishermen, restaurants and marinas and hopefully not too far in the future we may even have some oystermen and oyster women making a living off the river.

The river also provides me with income, but I don’t enjoy it. I am the president of a marine consulting firm that is located in Red Bank; we work all over the world on the largest marine disasters such as the Exxon Valdez, the Costa Concordia, the Deepwater Horizon and the El Faro. However, by living near the Navesink, inevitably we are also drawn into smaller but no less horrendous disasters when they occur on the river. In every case, speed was a factor in the harm that occurred (including death).

Water provides a thrilling setting for speed. But on water, speed is potentially even more dangerous than on land. I am a naval architect and efficiency and speed hold a great fascination for me. I love speed. I love the speed of iceboats, I love the speed of all-out racing boats and I especially love the speeds that can be achieved in the most modern sailboats (which can today reach speeds of around 50 mph). Personally, I think it would be great fun to lay out a powerboat race course around July 4 when there is plenty of fireworks noise anyway, and to run a fast, wild and crazy Jersey speed skiff regatta for a day or so.

Speed at the right time and place is fun, but as a technical person who has seen speed in the wrong place kill over and over again, I think it is time we all start thinking about taking speed down a notch on the Navesink.

While safety is always the most significant factor, speed is also detrimental for numer- ous other reasons. The most obvious is excessive wake effects. Large waves change shoreline ecosystems and cause damage to boats tied up along the river. While we do not normally have to worry about whale strikes on the river, a number of years ago I did see a large turtle carcass that showed evidence of being struck by an outboard. Also, I have dealt with a number of cases where large boat wakes caused harm to people in small boats. Interestingly those people who got hurt and were able to identify the boat that caused the wake, under ancient maritime law were able to have their dam- ages reimbursed by the boat owners who caused the wake. I have noticed that social media and readily available video are making it much easier today to identify a boat that causes the damage.

Slowing down not only improves safety and reduces wake damage, it also reduces daily noise on the river and, when all is said and done, that may be one of the greatest benefits of slowing down.

So how do we reduce speeds? The obvious choice is to declare the entire river a no-wake zone and to somehow increase enforcement of the no-wake restrictions. But who really wants to enlarge the police state, and maybe we can do it through rational per- suasion? Let’s just talk to each other. So often we do things without really thinking about it. Do we really think that people in large powerboats do not care about small boats, crew shells, fishermen, marina operators and dinghy sailors? Maybe we all just need to be reminded about how others feel.

So here I go: Dear large and fast Navesink river boaters, for everybody’s sake, please take it nice and slow. It will take you about 40 minutes longer to get out of the river. And why rush? The river is the prettiest part of the ride. Once you get in the bay, there is plenty of space to open up. Meanwhile, enjoy the river ride and enjoy the gratitude of everyone else on and around the river.

And one more thing: I have evaluated dozens of very serious high-speed boating accidents. In all those accidents, all the drivers of the boats that caused harm, and even death, to people on the water, now have to live with the reality that they killed for no other reason than not easing up on the throttle (and some are thinking about this in prison). I met most of those people, and for the most part they were wonderful people; they just did not realize the damage they could do. Don’t let the river become your private hell. Slow down.

Rik F. Van Hemmen of Fair Haven is the president of Martin Ottaway of Red Bank, a founding member of the Navesink Marine Historical Association and the author of “A Chronology of Boating On the Navesink.”

This article was first published in the August 16-23, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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