Deputies Patrol Waters for Alcohol Use
AKRON, Ohio – Beautiful weather on Monday drew thousands of boaters to Portage Lakes in Summit County. Among them were deputies with the Summit County Marine Patrol.
“There’s over 3,000 docks on Portage lakes, of all of the area in Summit County this is hands down the busiest and if it’s not the busiest in the state for boaters,” said Sgt. Mike Walsh.
With the boating season drawing to a close, Walsh expects most of the boaters on Portage Lakes to be familiar with the rules and regulations. They do not always comply.
“Portage Lakes has seven bars on it, however, the water portion is considered state park property and just like if you go camping somewhere you are not allowed to have alcohol open or unopen on this body of water,” said Deputy Chris Bickett who adds that does not stop boaters from indulging.
“Usually, almost every time we have a fatal in the water alcohol is involved at some point, so that’s why we focus a lot,” added Walsh, who is himself a victim of a drunk driver, hit head-on while he was on a routine traffic stop.
“So I take it personal when I see other people, I don’t want to see other victims like myself so I’m pretty aggressive when it comes to finding the impaired drivers,” he continued.
Rules on Portage Lakes prohibit all but sail boats on the lake until 2:00 p.m. on holidays like Labor Day. After that the lake opens up to speed boats and skiers.
The deputies say that is when they are the busiest.
“It’s one of those things that, if I’m going to stop you chances are it’s because you caused me to stop you and if you have alcohol on the boat, then we are going to address it appropriately,” said Bickett.
Stopping a boat on the open water is far different than pulling over a car on dry land. Deputies say they are looking for safety violations, looking for boats creating wakes in a no-wake zone, and can stop any boat for a routine safety inspection at any time.
They say just their presence on the water is often a deterrent to people thinking about violating the rules.
But they also know that people can have too much to drink before they get in their boat.
Other boaters using the lake say drinking and boating concerns them too.
“It usually starts about 11 o’clock in the evening, that’s when all the people leave the bars and go bar-hopping and they will start full throttle and they don’t care where at on the lake they are at, and you can be going down a narrow canal; and they will be going full throttle,” said Tracy Shafer.
“It’s something I don’t take lightly,” concluded Walsh. “I take seriously and I hope when the people operating the boat the definitely know our presence when they see us and it makes them think twice about drinking and driving.”