TENMILE — On a sunny Saturday afternoon, a mid-sized motor boat ripped through Ben Irving Reservoir near Tenmile, inundating the water with a rush of waves.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office marine deputy Darrell Norton caught up with the boat and motioned for it to stop. After a brief conversation, Norton notified passengers that they were speeding in a no-wake zone — an area where speeding boats are restricted.
Jared Green, driver of the boat, and his family responded politely to Norton and Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brad O’Dell — quickly apologizing for not knowing where the no-wake zone was.
Mission accomplished on the second day of Operation Dry Water, a three-day education campaign mixed with an increased law enforcement presence on the water in Douglas County.
“We’re not big ticket writers, it’s more about educating,” Norton said later. “We’re not here to ruin their fun, we’re here to keep them safe.”
Dry Water is part of a national, year-long initiative to raise awareness of the dangers of boating under the influence through the holiday weekend. Across the country, thousands of officers and Marine Patrols, in partnership with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the U.S. Coast Guard, will be increasing their presence to remove unsafe boaters from the water.
“We want people to enjoy the waterway, we want them to have fun out here,” O’Dell said, who recently assumed supervision for the marine patrol. “There has to be responsibility of the boater to take some of that on and make sure that they are not drinking too much and being reckless.”
This is the second year Operation Dry Water has been observed in Douglas County to spread the message that boating under the influence is not safe and could result in a BUII.
“It is not illegal to operate a boat and drink in the state of Oregon,” O’Dell said. “Where it becomes problematic is when that person is impaired. And that’s what we’re looking for is the impairment.”
O’Dell said the main priority of patrolling the water is to make sure everyone is being safe while they are having fun.
Officers are looking for reckless behaviors of boaters who are violating the rules of the water and indicate that a person might be under the influence. Officers also are checking for up-to-date boater registration and proper boat education verification.
Norton and O’Dell pulled up alongside Stacey and Daniel Quinn’s boat, where they conducted a safety inspection to see if the Quinns and their passengers had proper equipment on board, such as a fire extinguisher, whistle or noise-making device and life vests for all.
Although they were one life vest short, Norton gave them a warning and sent them back to shore to get a donor life vest.
Marine Patrol has a fleet of three boats and chooses which waterways to monitor each day in Douglas County. O’Dell said they try to determine which areas will be the most busy before heading to a given location.
“Alcohol on the water can bring a lot of problems,” O’Dell said. “If you have someone that is impaired and not paying attention, you may end up with some — there may be a death involved, there may be a higher criminal component as well. That’s one of the reasons why this is such a big deal.”