you have to be crazy to go out there in a small boat?"
A reader wrote
to me saying he had recently moved to Florida but had
concerns about taking his kayak out amongst the snakes
and alligators and other dangers of the marsh. I
felt guilty that some of my stories may have caused some
of his concern, because it's really not all that bad.
Face it, if a goofball like myself can survive and enjoy
going out in the marsh there's no reason why anyone else
Not to say there
aren't real dangers - this isn't Disney World, and the
snakes and alligators are real. You simply need to keep
your eyes and ears open and take care of your own safety.
The first thing
to keep in mind is that the more exciting stories make
better reading. You ever try to make a good story
out of an uneventful day? Boring! For the purposes of
this website, we shall try to keep the stories interesting.
Don't take them too seriously!
The second thing
to keep in mind is that I've been on the river for many,
many years and am still here to lie...er, tell about it.
Unless you have
allergic reactions to stinging insects, the biggest worries
on the river are weather, other boaters, snakes, and
alligators...in that order. Here are a few tips to
help you safely cope with the main dangers on the river:
yourself from the heat. Use sunblock, a hat, sun
glasses and drink lots of water. Learn the symptoms
of heat exhaustion and take steps to cool down if
you get over heated.
to watch for approaching storms. Getting caught in
the rain is one thing, but you don't want to be caught
crossing a large lake in the middle of a lightning
If I am caught
on the far side of a lake with a storm coming I go
around the edge rather than crossing the middle.
If the weather gets too rough for further travel
I pull up under some low willow trees and put up
a tarp and wait for it to pass.
in a small, quiet boat you need to keep an eye out
for other boaters. Luckily, airboaters can be heard
a good ways off, as can fast motorboats.
If you go on
airboat trails you should put a flag on your boat
- maybe a good idea to have one anyway, just to increase
to being in a small boat is that you can duck into
a small space (like between trees) for shelter.
are a few poisonous snakes in the marsh...rattlers,
pigmie rattlers, water moccasins and cottonmouths...but
only the cottonmouths are really aggressive. Most
snakes will gladly take off in the opposite direction.
(Once again, keep in mind that I have been on the
river a long time and I have only 3 confirmed sightings
of a cottonmouth - and only one of those was being
Keep your eyes
open. Often you will not see a full "snake" at first
view, so watch for movement on top of the water (particularly
if something is moving against the current), or in
the trees. Learn to identify the Snake
Bird so you don't freak out thinking it's a snake
when it's really only a bird.
When you pull
up under trees look up into the branches to make
sure a snake isn't draped on the branch overhead
waiting to drop into your boat. If you get out on
land to walk around, make lots of noise and keep
your eyes open. Know where you are putting your feet!
If you do
encounter a poisonous snake, retreat. As rapidly
as possible. Non-poisonous snakes - either ignore
them or just chuck a stick or shell towards them
to encourage them to move along out of your way.
snake photo used with permission of Gene
the least of your worries. As you can tell from some
of my photos,
I get pretty close to them. Then again I have a little
6 hp engine to help me make my getaway.
Most of the
time you will see a gator's head on the water and
he will silently sink out of sight as you approach.
If you want to make sure he does, just beat on the
side of your boat to make noise.
my theory is that I would rather see the gator and
know where is is than to worry he might accidentally
come up underneath me and tip me over. (Again, years
on the river and it's never happened to me.)
If you startle
a gator on the bank he will rush into the water with
a great thrashing of his tail. He is not coming after
you, he's just wanting to scare you into backing
off long enough for him to get into the water and
make his escape. Just make sure you leave him room
to run. A gator's mouth may be full of teeth, but
his tail is one huge muscle and you don't want him
to accidentally hit your boat with it.
So long as
you follow a few simple
safety rules and treat the alligator with respect
you won't have any problems.
rule is DON'T MESS WITH THEM DURING MATING SEASON (May
- July). With the exception of a mother protecting
her young, this is the only time they get aggressive.
(I'm sure I don't need to tell you not to mess with
an alligators nest, right?)
the water is up high enough to go on all the trails, the
likelyhood of running into gators or snakes is low. They
have enough water to go where ever they want, and
don't need to stay where people go. You do have to keep
an eye out for other boaters and the weather, but I
still feel safer out in the marsh that I do at the Mall.
that kayak out of the garage and go exploring!