Sheriff’s deputies will patrol Thurston County’s waterways starting Memorial Day weekend and through the summer with the goal of ensuring boater safety and cutting down on boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
There were no reported fatalities or major collisions on any of the county’s 15 bodies of water or 300 miles of Puget Sound shoreline last season, according to sheriff’s deputy Jeff Norton.
“We had a good year last year and we are hoping for the same this year, but people should expect to be contacted,” Norton said. “If they don’t have what they need, aren’t driving how they need to be or are drunk, they are going to get nailed.”
Deputies will patrol the county’s waters in pairs, with an emphasis on the seven or eight busiest areas, including Black Lake, Long Lake and Summit Lake.
“We go where the traffic is and where the complaints are,” Norton said. “We don’t spend a huge amount of time on our 5-mph lakes.”
Deputies will check to ensure that boat operators have boater education cards required for anyone between the ages of 12 and 50 operating a boat with 15-horsepower or stronger engines or a personal watercraft. In Thurston County, people must be at least 16 to operate a boat alone.
By 2014, everyone 59 and younger will be required to carry a card.
The push is also to ensure there are enough flotation devices for everyone onboard and that boats are registered.
“We have a no-tolerance policy for (not having) personal flotation devices and (for) no boater education cards,” Norton said.
The life jackets not only need to fit, they also have to be accessible and Coast Guard-approved. Norton said he has run into too many situations in which life jackets are stowed away, still in the packaging they were sold in.
“You have to have those readily accessible,” Norton said. “If the boat flips over, would you be able to fish the jacket out of that container?”
Deputies will also crack down on boating under the influence. Gov. Jay Inslee recently toughened up the law, making BUI a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The change is effective July 28.
The new law doesn’t change the way Norton and his fellow deputies approach BUIs.
“We will still enforce them like we always did,” Norton said. “We are always out looking for intoxicated boaters.
“Unfortunately in this day and age, they think boating is just a cool place to drink and drive; they don’t realize it could be more dangerous than being in a car.”Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer