We all know the rules of the road, but many of us tend to forget that there are rules to follow while operating vehicles on the water as well.
During boating season each year, the Sutter County Sheriff’s Department Boat Patrol watches over the many rivers in the county, educates the public on safe boating practices and secures these waterways for the many people that head down the river to escape the summer heat.
“We watch for safe operations, proper equipment like life jackets and valid registrations,” said Sutter County Sheriff’s Department Boat Patrol Deputy Glen Mercer.
Mercer said each boat on the water is required to carry certain equipment, depending on the length and size of the vessel.
“If we see that some of these things are missing then we will come over and talk to you,” he said.
Mercer, along with boat patrol Deputy James Casner, start their day of patrol each morning at 6 a.m. Before they head out on the water, they check the boat thoroughly and do any maintenance that may need to be taken care of.
“We do a lot of the maintenance ourselves,” Mercer said. “If there is something out of our will house we will take it to a marine mechanic but we do the majority of it.”
Mercer and Casner both retired from the Sutter County Sheriff’s Department but still work 12-hour shifts on boat patrol during the boating season, which began for them in April this year.
On Saturday, the pair – which is usually a three-man unit – patrolled up and down the Sacramento River from the Knights Landing Boat Launch to the Sutter-Sacramento county line and back up river towards Kirkville.
This unit is in charge of patrolling 187 total miles of river ways within Sutter County, from the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather rivers all the way to the Colusa and Butte county lines.
While patrolling, the deputies watch out for reckless or negligent driving on boats and personal watercraft vehicles, speeding past boat docks and properly displayed safety equipment such as orange flags used to indicate skiers.
“The speed limit when passing a boat ramp is five miles per hour if you are within 200 feet of the dock,” Mercer said. “We see a lot of people fly past these which creates a big wake and bangs up the boats that are docked.”
Mercer and Casner flagged down a few boats out on the water that failed to follow this law and gave them a warning to slow down in these areas.
When coming up to the Verona Marina, the sheriff’s boat was flagged down by a jet skier and asked to jump a boat that would not start.
Casner eased the boat up to the inoperable watercraft with ease before Mercer tied the line from his boat to the other so they could asses the situation. After several failed attempts at jump starting the boat, the deputies towed the watercraft to shore.
“People always tell us they are appreciative to see us out here but this is what we are here for,” Mercer said.
After continuing down the river, the deputies spotted a group of watercrafts heading towards them. Among them was a jet skier that was riding the wake extremely close to the back of another boat.
Mercer said the law states that a jumping or attempting to jump the wake of another vessel within 100 feet of the other vessel and is considered unsafe operation of a personal watercraft.
The deputies directed the group of watercrafts to the beach, where they informed the jet ski rider about the law and warned about the dangers of jumping a jet ski so close to a boat.
The deputies also gave out one fix-it ticket for an out-of-date registration on Saturday.
In addition to their regularly scheduled patrols, these deputies also respond to accidents and emergency situations on the water.
Mercer said there has been only one boating accident to report this season.
“Boating accidents are far worse than car accidents because there are many factors that go into an accident on the road,” Mercer said. “With a boating accident, it’s always one going over the top of the other and they can get pretty messy.”
Casner said if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need help while on the water, don’t wait to call for help.
“Sometimes people wait to call us because they want to enjoy the rest of the day on the water,” Casner said. “Call us as soon as you can because we won’t respond to a call after dark unless it is life threatening situation. We will tell them to hunker down for the night and we will be out as soon as the sun comes up.”
“It’s just too dangerous for us to go out in the dark,” Mercer said.
Mercer also said if one’s boat breaks down do not attempt to swim to shore.
“Just throw down an anchor where you are and call for assistance,” Casner said.
Mercer said attempting to swim can lead to many dangers including hypothermia and drowning.
In an effort to help avoid emergency situations, Casner recommends learning as much as possible about the area you will be boating in prior to getting out on the water by visiting the Division of Boating and Waterways website.
“There are a lot of hidden dangers in rivers that many people just are not aware of,” Mercer said.
Mercer also recommends that boaters leave a float plan with someone.
“Let a neighbor or friend know where you plan to be on the river,” Mercer said. “That way if anything happens we at least have an idea of where to start looking.”