Wardens step up safety patrols on lakes to stop OUI boaters

Posted June 25, 2010, at 8:06 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:26 p.m.

     Several times a year, Lt. Kevin Adam or one of his Maine Warden Service colleagues walks up to strangers who have gathered near a beautiful lake and delivers tragic news that will change lives forever.

  Someone went out in a boat. Something went wrong. And the wardens have to notify the next of kin.

  Your husband … or wife … or child is not coming back.

  “Believe me, the last thing I want to have to do is tell somebody that their loved one ain’t coming back from a boating trip this weekend,” Adam said on Thursday as he stood at a boat landing at calm and inviting Hermon Pond. “Nobody wants to hear that, and nobody wants to say that to anybody.”

  This weekend, in an effort to reinforce the importance of boating safety, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife will participate in Operation Dry Water.

  The project, which is organized by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators, focuses on increased enforcement of laws regarding the use of alcohol by boat operators.

  Adam said this year’s Operation Dry Water began on Friday and will run through Sunday.

  Similar to the national Click It or Ticket program that encourages seatbelt use, Operation Dry Water will put wardens on many of the state’s most popular lakes, where they’ll conduct safety checks throughout the weekend.

  “The [wardens] on regular duty are going to be focusing on recreational boating safety, with a particular focus on OUI and lifejackets,” Adam said. “And we have special details, so wardens who are off-duty can come in and work to give us extra coverage.”

  Adam said last year’s Operation Dry Water initiative resulted in five citations for boating under the influence. According to a DIF&W press release, 117 boaters were given safety warnings.

  The time that wardens spend on each lake will vary, Adam said.

  “Typically we try to get out there on a particular body of water for maybe three or four hours, depending on the size. Some of them, like Moosehead or Sebago, [wardens will] be there all day,” Adam said. “The wardens know their districts and they’re going to concentrate where the boating traffic is heaviest or where they’ve had complaints over the past few years.”

  In Maine the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration while operating a boat is .08 percent.

  Adam said that alcohol use can exacerbate other conditions that make boating a complicated affair.

  “Even if people aren’t under the influence, they’re not in boats all the time. They have to deal with wind, drift, current in a boat, things that they’re not normally used to,” Adam said. “Throw in impairment from alcohol and it’s just making it that much more difficult.”

  Adam said two people have died in boating accidents on Maine’s inland waters already this year.

  And although Maine doesn’t have an open-container law that applies to boaters, Adam did say that even passengers who are drinking in a boat are violating a Maine law.

  “Public drinking is public drinking. A lake is a public body of water. So it is illegal to drink in a boat in public,” Adam said.

  Adam said wardens are most concerned with making sure that the actual boat operators are not under the influence, however.

  “We’re gonna make sure that he’s sober, and if he is, tell him, ‘Just watch what you’re doing, you’re doing a good job right now,’ and make sure it stays that way,” Adam said. “As long as we’re not getting complaints of [passengers] being belligerent, we’re going to take each case on an individual basis.”

  Adam said boaters should use caution and realize that unpredictable things can happen while they’re out on Maine’s lakes, enjoying a day of fishing, water skiing or pleasure boating.

  “I know that people like to drink alcohol when they’re out on the water. Of course nobody thinks it can happen to them,” Adam said. “I’m telling you, it can happen to you. We see it all the time. You want to get back to your loved ones and [we] want other people getting back to their loved ones. That’s what we want people thinking about when they’re out there.”

 

  SAM unveils new website

  The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine announced this week that it has revamped its website in an effort to turn it into the “go-to” site for the state’s sportsmen.

  “We’ve designed this site to be easy to navigate, so sportsmen can quickly find the information they want,” George Smith, SAM’s executive director, said in a news release.

  Smith said the site reflects the belief that SAM’s principle product is information, and the site will make that information more accessible.

  The site includes Smith’s blog and sections on hunting, fishing, the legislature and news and issues.

  According to the release, funding for the creation of the site was provided by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and corporations that signed up as sponsors.

  The site can be accessed at www.sportsmansalliance.com.

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