EDINBURGH -- Local police are gearing up for the summer boating season by increasing their presence on the waters and launching a public awareness campaign to combat boating while intoxicated (BWI).
At a press conference on Friday, county sheriffs, Adirondack park rangers and concerned citizens gathered to address what can be done to fight BWI.
“We’re not out here to check every single boat,” Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said in his opening remarks. “But if we get a complaint that somebody’s operating a boat in an intoxicated condition, we’re gonna take action.”
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple acknowledged that major incidents like the 2016 Log Bay Day hit-and-run crash, which resulted in the death of 8-year-old Charlotte McCue, has increased public awareness of the dangers of BWI and, he hopes, has made bystanders more vigilant.
“Unfortunately, that tragic event brought a lot more to the surface,” a subdued Apple said. “But as a result of that … that also made people a little more cognizant that this cannot be allowed on the waterways, and it brought a lot more people to pay attention to what they’re doing out there.”
Although Apple’s jurisdiction is mainly on the Hudson River — he joked that his GPS simply brought up a “question mark” when he arrived at the Edinburgh Marina on Great Sacandaga Lake for the press conference — he shared a personal anecdote about the dangers of drunken boating.
“I’ve got a place on a small lake, and I know tomorrow there’ll be tubing and water skiing and everything else,” he said. “And you get one reckless operator out there, and he can take out a whole family. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”
While the sheriffs acknowledged that some boat operators may not take drinking and boating as seriously as drinking and driving, they were adamant that the procedures of enforcement are the same.
“We’re looking for the same things,” Saratoga County Deputy Sheriff Mark Stewart said. “We’re looking for the reckless operation. We’re looking for somebody that brought our attention [upon themselves]. The field sobriety test is also the same.”
Sheriffs also urged caution when re-entering waters after a “long winter,” saying that cold water temperatures and an influx of boat traffic over the holiday weekend would pose risks.
“There’ll be a lot of people out this weekend. It’s been a long winter,” Zurlo said. “This is the first break I think people have to get on the waterways. … But we’ll be out there promoting the safe use of water craft.”
Beyond reporting drunken boating, sheriffs urged lake-goers to make sure they wear life vests in and around the water, and even to carry whistles with them to signal for help.
“If you blow this, we’ll know where to find you,” Apple said of a whistle, especially if cellphone service is not available.