EDINBURG – Being on the lookout for intoxicated boat operators, or any other hazards on popular bodies of water in the region, aren’t solely the responsibility of local law enforcement and regulatory agencies, says John Callaghan, executive director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District in Albany.
Civilians who use the waters have a shared responsibility to look out for one another, and to help keep the boating environment safe, said Callaghan, whose agency is a state public benefit corporation that protects public health and safety by regulating waters in the Adirondack Region’s Upper Hudson River and the Black River.
At the Edinburg Marina Thursday, Callaghan joined local and state law enforcement and other partners in the Great Sacandaga Lake Association’s kick off of the 2021 Sober Boater campaign in Saratoga and Fulton counties.
The effort, which coincides with National Safe Boating Week, includes the sheriffs of both counties, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, state police and local fire departments, and individuals and organizations around the lake.
Memorial Day is approaching, warmer weather’s already here, and it is the time of year when many people launch boats from marinas and public and private docks.
On top of all that, there are many more boaters because of the ongoing pandemic, officials said.
“It is just a good opportunity to emphasize that the most important thing you can do during a fun day on the water is go home safely at the end of it,” Callaghan said.
According to the American Boating Association, there were 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels in the U.S. in 2019.
A partner in the local initiative is the Henry D. Ross III Memorial Fund, established after a family tragedy. Part of the initiative is the development of a recreational GPS-based alert app boaters can use called Send It – HDR III. Launched in 2019, it’s essentially a crowdsourcing app to report hazards boaters can see while on the water.
It can also be used on trails and everyday places that are often overlooked.
Henry Ross III, 24, died in a snowmobile accident on the Sacandaga Lake in December 2016.
His mother, Maria Ross, attended the awareness event Thursday.
Ross said the app has a recent enhancement allowing users to select a large SOS button if they’re in need of emergency assistance. The upgrade shares the users’ location or coordinates. It goes out to any user of the app within a 20-mile radius.
With users throughout the U.S., Ross said she’s been “pleasantly surprised” by its popularity.
Ross suggested that most people don’t think about a lake tragedy until it hits close to home. She encourages people to be aware of their surroundings.
“Our initiative is hoping that it never happens to anyone else,” she said. “Just be aware, be cautious, and yet have fun out there, too.”
Theresa Dabiere-Craig, mother of a drowning victim, also attended.
In July 2016, Sean Craig, 18, of Amsterdam drowned while boating on the Saratoga County section of Great Sacandaga Lake. After an overnight search, his body was recovered in 25 feet of water, 400 feet west of the I Go Inn restaurant in Edinburg.
He was boating alone without a life jacket and was not connected to the motor’s kill switch when he went overboard.
“We don’t know what happened,” his mother said.
She said the fund has placed a lot of effort in making sure responders have the equipment that they need.
“We built a lifejacket loaner station on the lake, where everybody can come and borrow life jackets if they don’t have enough or the right size,” she said.
The fund also put life rings at waterfront venues around the lake for people to throw to someone who’s entered the water unexpectedly and is in trouble.
“We’re involved because we lost our son,” Dabiere-Craig said. “And so we don’t want to see that happen to anybody else. We want to encourage people to have good behaviors and be helpful to each other, especially with a lot of new boaters out.”
To that point, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo noted that people have been home and have traveled less since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“They end up purchasing the watercraft, and our lakes were full throughout Saratoga County, and we expect the same this year, talking to various marinas and manufacturers that can’t keep up with the demand,” Zurlo said.
“As we do every year, we’re just reminding the boaters that are on the waterways, if you just bought a boat, know how to operate it.”
As of 2020, state law required anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1993 to have a boating safety certificate beginning in 2020 if they are operating a motorized boat.
An online boater safety course is offered through the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Zurlo, whose county patrols part of the Sacandaga, as well as Saratoga Lake, the Hudson and Mohawk rivers and Ballston Lake, said his department’s navigation patrol will be pulling watercraft over to make sure it has the proper equipment.
The sheriff also encouraged operators to make sure occupants wear lifejackets while in a boat.
“The most important thing, in all of this, is please do not operate a watercraft in an intoxicated state,” Zurlo said.
“Unfortunately last year in our county, my navigation patrol had a few boating while intoxicated arrests, and we don’t want to see this,” he continued. “We want the residents of the county to enjoy themselves on the waterways throughout Saratoga and Fulton counties, and have a good time in the summer.”