Queensland has many inland waterways ideal for fishing, boating and water sports.
Operating on freshwater lakes and dams, however, can be quite different to estuary boating.
Freshwater boating requires a new set of skills and knowledge.
Most freshwater boating is conducted on dams or impoundments which are water storage facilities for either agricultural irrigation or town water supply. Other freshwater boating is conducted on the various rivers throughout western Queensland or the upper reaches of coastal rivers.
These rivers are predominantly waterhole's except when in flood.
Boat registration and licensing requirements are no different to any other boating requirements throughout Queensland.
Some freshwater impoundments do have restrictions imposed by the authority which manages the dam.
These restrictions range from what activities can take place, access to the water and whether outboard motors are permitted.
While there is no tidal flow in freshwater, the height and depth of water can vary dramatically depending on the season and rainfall received.
These variations do not change overnight but as the dam capacity becomes lower and waterhole's dry up, hazards such as old trees and fences become exposed, as do rock bars and sand banks.
Freshwater boating tips
As a skipper, what are the differences and skills you should be aware of?
- Freshwater does not necessarily mean calm water. Some freshwater dams are located in mountainous areas which funnel winds through valleys, increasing speed. Large dams like the Fairburn Dam at Emerald measure miles across, and strong winds can create conditions not unlike open ocean waters.
- Some of Queensland’s dams are exposed areas of water which offer no shelter until you reach the shore. In some dams the shore could be several miles away, not like saltwater estuaries which are dotted with mangrove islands and shallow channels. Be aware of this when preparing for a day out on the water.
- Take extra care to look out for and be aware of submerged objects.
- Freshwater is less buoyant than salt water so if you fall overboard, it is harder to stay afloat. Also freshwater is often extremely cold only a few feet below the surface. Falling into cold water can be a shock to the body and reduce the ability to function.
- Freshwater dams and rivers are often littered with underwater hazards originating from trees and submerged fences. The water level in these dams fluctuates with the seasons and as water levels drop, unknown hazards can appear in areas previously used by water skiers. Unlike salt water estuaries, freshwater is usually discoloured and water clarity can hide many of these hazards.
- Wearing a life jacket, especially in the early morning or late afternoon, might mean the difference between survival and drowning if you fall overboard into very cold water.
- Don’t underestimate the weather — take heed of forecasts and be aware that encountering bad weather on a freshwater dam is dangerous.
- Slow down when boating close to shore to avoid hitting underwater hazards. Never ski close to the shoreline.
Essential safety equipment
- Keep clear of spillways and dam walls at all times.
Boats operating in fresh water are required to carry the same safety equipment as specified for smooth water.