With temperatures forecast 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, of 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,” Deputy Patrick Bloomer said. “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 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, 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 personal watercraft jumping a wake within 100 feet of a moving vessel, and for overconsumption of alcohol.
In Washington and Idaho, it’s legal to have open containers of alcohol in a boat, but the driver is subject to the same 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit as drivers on the road.
“We recommend people to do just like they would with a vehicle: Have a designated operator for the boat,” Bloomer said.
This time last year, Bloomer was among 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 on charges of felony assault by watercraft. That incident involved alcohol, deputies said at the time.
With a combination of water, wind, sun and the vibrations of a 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.
While outside temperatures will be warm, the water is still frigid, hovering around 40 or 50 degrees in most lakes and rivers, and hypothermia is possible. Swimmers should wear life vests, and all skiers, wakeboarders or others towed behind boats 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.”