CLEVELAND — With Memorial Day now over, boating season is underway for the summer, and that means the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has patrols out on the water to make sure people stay safe.
News 5 rode along with Sergeant Blaine Downing and Officer Rich McCullough on Memorial Day as the officers from ODNR’s Division of Parks and Watercraft patrolled for violations and did safety checks.
“It is the kickoff,” Downing said of Memorial Day. “People are excited, but a lot of people, it’s their first time out, so they’re kind of testing their boat out. Some people might have forgotten, or if they’re new boaters, they might not really be familiar with their equipment yet.”
Downing said they primarily gave warnings on Memorial Day and that, generally, if boaters have all the required safety equipment, they usually won’t get a violation. However, if there are several pieces of equipment missing in addition to the reason an officer stopped the boat, Downing said a citation might be given.
“Typically, it might only be one citation,” Downing said. “The only time people are really getting hit hard with citations is if they’re boating under the influence.”
For that offense, Downing said, someone would get arrested. He estimated about 75% of boats in northern Ohio have alcohol on board, but he emphasized that did not mean all of those boats had operators who were under the influence. However, other than wearing a life jacket, Downing said it was one of the most important reminders he’d give boaters: not to mix alcohol and boating.
“We would prefer for there to be none on there at all,” Downing said. “At the very minimum, make sure the person operating the boat does not have anything in their system.”
He also said they frequently remind boaters to file a float plan so someone knows where they’re going and when they’re coming back.
“We do get calls pretty often of overdue vessels, so it’s always a good starting place if we know, ‘OK, this is where they’re planning on going,’” Downing said. “Makes our job a little bit easier, instead of searching a whole big body of water for one little boat.”
For the most part, Downing and McCullough spend their time on the water checking vessels for required safety equipment.
On Monday, they decided to stop a boat coming into the Edgewater Cut a little too fast in a “no wake” zone.
Rogelio Moran and his family said they spent time out on the lake on that boat Monday.
“We’re just going around, having fun, enjoying the day,” Moran said.
Sgt. Downing spoke with Moran and did a safety check on his boat, ensuring he had safety equipment such as life jackets, flares and something to make noise in case the boaters were in distress. While Moran’s boat did have the necessary safety equipment, Downing said Moran had one too many people on his boat and that he needed to carry the boat’s registration paperwork on the vessel with him. Downing also advised Moran that it might be a good idea for him and his family to sign up for a boater safety class.
Moran, a first-year boater, received a warning. For him, the safety reminders were good additions to the ways he already tries to stay safe out on the water.
“We watch out for others, stay away from other boats and always keep my eyes on the lake,” Moran said.
Downing stressed that ODNR wants people to continue boating recreationally and that the safety checks are to help them stay safe as they do just that.
“We want people to enjoy boating, but we want them to go home safe at the end of the day,” Downing said.