090417 BOATS1

090417 BOATS1 -SPORTSDOUG BENZ/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERNORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. - Joe Ulanowski cleans the lower unit on his 24-foot Regal at The Shores Waterfront Restaurant and Marina, Friday, April 17, 2009.

The sun was shining beautifully Friday afternoon, and Joe Ulanowski was dreaming of being out on the water. Typically, the City of Tonawanda resident and General Motors retiree would already be on the water, but there’s still some work to do on his 24-foot boat.

“It always kills me not to be out there,” Ulanowski said when asked how he felt about not being able to get on the water on such a nice day. He’s usually among the first boaters ready to launch from his slip on Tonawanda Island.

With warm weather slowly approaching, boaters across the Buffalo Niagara region are, like Ulanowski, itching to get out and take advantage of the area’s waterways — the Niagara River, Lake Erie and the historic Erie Canal — the crown jewels that are the envy of many other communities.

Lower gas prices should increase demand

And with gas prices expected to be much lower than they were last summer, when the average surpassed $4 a gallon, there will likely be more traffic out on local waterways this season.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand from the high price of gas last year,” said Jeff Smith, a co-owner of Smith Boys Marine Sales in North Tonawanda. “Those people are in looking right now, they’re just starting to come out.”

It’s too soon to gauge how prosperous the 2009 boating season will be, but Smith anticipates a middle-of-the-road season. Favoring the Buffalo Niagara market is the fact that Western New York wasn’t hit as hard by the housing crisis.

There’s no official start to boating season, but a few anxious boaters have already been out for a test drive on local waterways, and activity will pick up May 1, when the New York State Canal Corp. locks open.

They’ll be in operation from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 1 through May 21, before expanding from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 22 through Sept. 9. Motorized vessels passing through a lock or lift bridge on the canal system must have a seasonal, 10-day or two-day pass. Season prices range from $25 to $100 depending on boat length; 10-day passes range from $12.50 to $50 and two-days range from $5 to $20.

With so many prime waterways in the region, Erie and Niagara counties account for a significant number — 7 percent — of the nearly half a million vessels registered in New York State, according to the state’s 2007 Recreational Boating Report.

There are more than 26,000 boats registered in Erie County, and just over 9,000 in Niagara County.

Safety first

Of course, with so many boats on the water, trouble may lurk, and boaters need to take safety seriously. The North Tonawanda-based Swiftwater Power Squadron offers a boating safety course, and is sponsoring Safe Boating Week from May 16-22. The event will include free vessel safety checks at the Niawanda Park docks in the City of Tonawanda May 16 and 18.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation advises boaters who head out onto the water early in the season while the water is still cold to take proper precautions.

Seven, or one-third, of the state’s recreational boating fatalities last year occurred either early or late in the season, and were associated with small, manually propelled watercraft, such as canoes and kayaks, both of which have been popping up in greater numbers on New York’s waterways, according to State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash.

“It’s essential to recognize that water temperatures are still extremely cold and will remain so throughout the spring months,” Ash said. “Sudden and unexpected immersion in cold water can quickly turn a pleasant day on the water tragic.”

Safety is critical, Ulanowski said. When he takes his boat out, he makes sure it’s stocked with the proper safety equipment, including two fire extinguishers, a tool box, bucket, anchors, flares, a first-aid kit and, of course, enough life preservers for everyone on board.

Wearing a life jacket is imperative, said Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. It’s especially important to have them early in the season, when the water is still cold.

Keefe added that boaters also need to bear in mind that this year begins full enforcement of the minimum age restriction for operating personal watercraft. Boaters must be at least 14 in order to operate such watercraft.

Can’t beat the view

That’s about the age Ulanowski was when he fell in love with the Niagara River. He’s had a slip at Shore’s Waterfront Restaurant and Marina on Tonawanda Island since 1978. “I got my first boat in 1977, 1978, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “You know why? You can’t beat that view.”

From his slip, Ulanowski has a gorgeous panoramic view of the Niagara River. To his left is the Riveredge development and Niawanda Park in the City of Tonawanda, and off in the distance straight ahead are the Grand Island bridges.

Even on the nastiest of days, it’s still great, Ulanowski said, adding that he and his wife can always hang out at the marina and listen to live music at the Shore’s Restaurant.

It’s a nice way to spend a few warm months in Western New York.


Public launch facilities along local waterways


• Gratwick Riverside Park, 1000 River Road

• Botanical Gardens Park, 1825 Sweeney St.

• Service Drive Launch, Sweeney Street at Service Drive

With $30 municipal pass


• Isle View Park, 796 Niagara St., 692-1890

• Gateway Harbor Park, 695-8658.

• Long’s Point Park, Main and Young streets.

• Niawanda Park, Niagara Street, 695-1800.


• Small Boat Harbor, foot of Sheridan Drive

$75 resident season pass; $105 non-resident


• Beaver Island State Park, 2136 West Oakfield Road, 773-3271


• Nelson C. Goehle Municipal Marina, Market St.

• Town of Lockport Launch Ramp, Prospect St. Bridge (operated by NYS Canal Corp.)


• Town of Newfane Marina, 778-5462


• Fort Niagara State Park, 745-7273


• Wear a life jacket

• Take a safe boating course

• Properly equip, inspect your vehicle

• Operate at a prudent speed for the conditions

• Help fellow boaters in distress

• Never drink alcohol and operate a boat

Source: NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Contact reporter David J. Hill at 693-1000, ext. 115.