With temperatures expected to hover near 80 degrees this Memorial Day heavy turnout is expected at lakes and rivers across the Inland Northwest.
Authorities in Washington and Idaho are reminding boaters and others to follow the laws, and be aware of new regulations.
“Today is typically the kickoff for the boating season,” said Sgt. Matt Street with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department. Street said six two-man teams will be out patrolling Kootenai County waterways this weekend.
In Spokane County, marine deputies with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office are planning a boating safety emphasis beginning at 8 a.m. today, and continuing through Monday. All full-time deputies will be on patrol.
“It’s our time to really educate people,” said Deputy Patrick Bloomer. “It’s the first time most people are going to be out on the water, so it’s a great opportunity.”
Bloomer said deputies are planning zero-tolerance this weekend for life jacket violations and for the new requirements for Boater Safety Education cards. Any operator up to age 25 must have the card.
The department receives grants from the U.S. Coast Guard to enforce boater safety education, Bloomer said. The grant money pays for holiday weekends when deputies will accrue overtime during emphasis patrols.
In addition, deputies will be watching for reckless operation, including any jet skis jumping a wake within 100 feet of moving vessels, and for alcohol over-consumption.
In both Washington and Idaho, it’s legal to have open containers of alcohol in a boat, but the driver is subject to the same blood-alcohol limits as drivers on the road — 0.08.
“We recommend people to do just like they would with a vehicle: have a designated (sober) operator for the boat,” Bloomer said.
This same time last year Bloomer was one of the deputies who investigated an accident at Newman Lake involving a woman who was riding illegally on the bow of a boat, fell off and had her arm severed by the boat’s propeller. The driver, her husband, was arrested for felony assault by watercraft. That incident involved alcohol, deputies said at the time.
With a combination of water, wind, sun and the vibration of the boat, alcohol can have a different effect on a person than it does on land, deputies said.
“There are environmental stressors that take their toll on the body,” Street said.
Both deputies also said while outside temperatures are expected to be warm, water is still frigid, hovering around 40 or 50 degrees in most lakes and rivers, and hypothermia is possible. Swimmers should wear life vests. All skiers, wake boarders, or others towed behind a boat are required to wear them, deputies said.
“If we get people to not operate at high speeds and not consume alcohol, and also wear their life vests, who know how many accidents we would save,” Bloomer said. “Those things right there are the three major causes of accidents.”