Byline: Taylor Hill
DANA POINT — Boaters approaching Dana Point Harbor should take a little more caution as they near the entrance, as the county has expanded the 5 mph no-wake zone in an effort to create a safe environment for boats, kayaks, paddleboarders and other harbor users entering and exiting the harbor.
The new buoys are the latest installment in a combined safety program in the harbor that has been in the works over the past few years, developed by the harbor’s Boater Safety Forum — made up of local boaters, paddlers, yacht clubs, commercial fishermen, rental businesses, OC Dana Point Harbor officials, the city of Dana Point staff and representatives from the Coast Guard.
OC Dana Point Harbor director Brad Gross said the idea for the new safety zone came following last year’s implementation of the Dana Point Harbor Human Powered Craft Guidelines, which created a road map for non-boat traffic to navigate the harbor safely and stay out of the way of vessel traffic.
“While we got a lot of compliments on the program, we started getting complaints and concerns from paddlers and boaters,” Gross said. “Boaters were saying the paddlers are getting out of hand, and the paddlers were saying the boaters were being aggressive near the harbor entrance.”
In order to alleviate the situation, the Boater Safety Forum came up with an expanded 5 mph zone that included eight total buoys that stretch outside the harbor’s breakwall — replacing the single buoy that floated near the harbor’s entrance channel.
The new buoy formation is aimed to slow boats down before approaching the harbor entrance — where many boats, kayaks, paddleboards and other human-powered craft tend to congregate.
In addition to the expanded 5 mph zone, OC Dana Point Harbor officials worked out new anchoring rules that require boats to remain 500 yards away from the buoy area when anchoring outside the harbor entrance.
Over the years, boats have often utilized the northeast area outside of the harbor to anchor, as Dana Point’s breakwall extends out, keeping boats from rocking with the swells. But Gross noticed that when Newport Beach shut down the Corona del Mar anchorage area along the harbor’s southern breakwall, Dana Point saw an increase in anchor-outs and further crowding in the area.
On busy weekends, powerboats and sailboats on their way in and out of the harbor would often be left dodging novice paddleboarders, kayaks and boats, leaving little room for error.
“What happened is, a lot of the boats had ended up anchoring very close to the harbor entrance — and with our 5 mph zone just basically at the harbor entrance, we had human-powered craft coming in and out; recreational boats, commercial fishing boats and Catalina Express boats motoring in and out; and we had the anchored boats right there,” Gross said.
Gross worked to get the buoys approved by the Coast Guard, communicating with officials in San Francisco to approve the new Aids to Navigation and accept the larger no-wake zone. With the 5 mph zone expanded and the anchored boats pushed farther out, the idea was that the entrance channel would be safer overall.
“People are really happy with it,” Gross said. “It seems to have worked out, all the way around.”
While many boaters and harbor users are glad to see an effort made to limit congestion at the entrance, some are questioning the intent of the county in moving the anchorage so far away from the entrance.
“The slow zone it definitely a good idea, and anytime you can limit boaters from speeding into the harbor is a good thing — but the new anchoring rules have caused concern,” said Bruce Heyman, president of boater advocacy group Boaters for Dana Point Harbor.
According to Heyman, the new rules effectively eliminate the safe anchorage area outside the harbor, as the 500-yard boundary pushes boats out into the swells and into harm’s way.
“I hope it doesn’t happen, but I imagine we’ll see an increase in ground tackle letting go and anchors dragging, and we’re going to see boats washed up on the beach,” Heyman said. He noted that prior to the rule, boaters would anchor up close to the breakwall for the added protection from waves and swell, which resulted in a much safer anchorage.
Gross noted that the plan was vetted through the Coast Guard, which agreed to the 500-yard distance.
“You can anchor a boat anywhere. I don’t know that there’s a difference,” Gross said.
“I have to question the Harbor Department’s motives on this,” Heyman said. “It seems like they’re trying to get rid of the boats that are out there by making it illegal or at the least very uncomfortable out there,” Heyman said.
On top of the safety issue, members of the Boating Safety Forum discussed the potential benefits to water quality that could be gained in the harbor if the anchored boats were moved farther out, keeping the harbor free of illegal sewage dumps from vessels.
“That was discussed, but that’s not the reason we did it,” Gross said. “We did it for safety, for everybody around.”