SARATOGA SPRINGS — With boating season in full swing in the Capital Region, Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office deputies have begun patrolling Saratoga and Sacandaga lakes four days a week.
Deputy Mark Stewart of the navigation unit said he anticipates activity will be slower on Saratoga Lake this summer with the closure of Lake Local.
An electrical fire broke out at the Union Avenue restaurant on April 29, damaging the back portion of the building, including the roof and attic. It is unknown when Lake Local will reopen.
“A good portion of our calls were about drunk patrons who were leaving there and about to get into their boat,” Stewart said. “I think things will slow down.”
Stewart and fellow deputy Matt Ball are two of the four full-time navigation unit deputies who operate the four boats and two wave runners that are owned by the sheriff’s office.
In order to join the navigation unit, deputies must go through two weeks of marine law enforcement training on Lake George followed by one week of marine navigation training.
“There’s a separate code for safe boating, and you have to learn about navigational aids,” Stewart said.
The calls the navigation unit often receive include creating a wake in a no-wake zone, driving too close to other boats or swimmers, and reckless operation of a boat, including excessive speed.
Stewart said boating while intoxicated calls typically come in on Friday evenings and throughout the weekend.
He said deputies often find out a boater has been drinking when they break a navigation law.
On May 25, the Saratoga and Albany County sheriff’s offices launched a public awareness campaign, “Operation Sober Boater,” to combat BWI by increasing their presence on the waters.
Stewart said if boaters are arrested for BWI, their vessels would be towed back to a marina and they would be taken into custody.
“The motion of the water and being out in the sun all day impedes a boater’s ability to operate a boat already, because their equilibrium is off,” he said. “Alcohol maximizes that.”
When tickets are issued, Stewart said the boater has to appear in court in the municipality where the incident occurred.
Areas of Saratoga Lake are in the City of Saratoga Springs, as well as the towns of Stillwater, Malta and Saratoga.
A big portion of Stewart and Ball’s time is spent educating boaters on safety requirements. Every vessel must be equipped with a fire extinguisher and one life jacket for every person on board. Children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times.
On Friday, Stewart performed safety checks on several vessels and a personal watercraft to make sure they met the safety requirements.
“What happens a lot of times is people buy used boats or put their old boat in the water for the first time in a while and the engines overheat,” he said. “We often get vessel-in-distress calls, so that’s why fire extinguishers are required.”
Water patrols for the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office typically conclude sometime in October.
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said he hopes boaters have the necessary safety equipment before leaving the dock.
“We want boaters to follow the rules of the lake they’re on and know the weather and water conditions,” he said. “We also want them to have fun.”