From sailboats to jet skis, or even vessels that welcome four-legged friends, boaters are making the most of the day out on the water this Fourth of July. Police patrols are right there with them, enforcing laws and keeping an eye on public safety.
For Environmental Conservation Police Officers with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, duties extend to enforcing boating laws over the long holiday weekend.
“So far this weekend, it's been minor,” Captain Keith Williams said Monday afternoon. “We've had a few minor boating accidents that have occurred on the shoreline. Nothing serious.”
EnCon Police are patrolling lakes and rivers across the state, and Captain Williams is monitoring a section near Old Lyme called “Between the Bridges,” where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound.
During one stop Monday afternoon, Captain Williams checked registration and confirmed there were lifejackets on board.
“We've done a number of boating checks, boating safety inspections, issued a few written warnings, a few infractions for minor boating safety violations,” he said.
During another stop, he warned boaters that they were cruising too fast in a “No Wake” zone.
“No big deal today, I'm just going give you a written warning, alright. But anything through here, it's all slow, no wake,” he told the boaters.
Captain Williams says keeping speed in check in the section, which is near a marina, is important for preventing property damage to boats in the slips and protecting other boaters.
“It's a huge safety issue because people that may be fishing on boats over here, they get rocked up and down,” he said. “So we just don't want to see any damage to property, or anybody get thrown off a vessel, for that matter, in an area like this where it's very congested.”
One of the top goals for the boat patrols is preventing boating while intoxicated.
According to EnCon Police, none of the state’s boating fatalities this year have been caused by drunk drivers. Law enforcement is hoping to keep it that way.
“We've been out doing our BUI patrol checks all three days so far, and you know, so far it's been relatively good. We've had zero arrests right now,” Captain Williams said Monday afternoon.
The Environmental Conservation Police join state and municipal departments in “Operation Dry Water” to curb intoxicated boating.
Of the more than 4,400 incidents on the water in 2021, alcohol was the leading factor in boating deaths, according to Coast Guard data.
“Effects of the wind, the waves, the salt air, the heat from the sun; you mix that with alcohol on a boat, and it just compounds the effects of your ability to make sound judgment decisions,” Captain Williams said.
EnCon Police have responded to seven boating fatalities in Connecticut this year, which Captain Williams says were caused by other safety issues.
“One fatal is one too many this year,” he said.
It’s why it is an all-hands-on-deck effort for the police patrols to keep the waterways safe over the holiday.
“Know your limitations. Know your vessels’ limitations, and what you can do with your vessel. Be aware of the natural environment,” Captain Williams said. “If you're not comfortable with your swimming ability, put the life jacket on because it will save your life.”
EnCon Police say boaters that run into trouble on the water can contact the Coast Guard through a marine radio or use a cell phone to call 911.