DNR continues marine patrols after heavy July Fourth water traffic

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- DNR News -

July 10, 2020

Contact: Lt. Tom Wanless, 517-284-6026

Conservation officers continue marine patrols after heavy July Fourth water traffic

DNR patrol boat on the water at sunset

High temperatures, sun and the anticipation of being outdoors – the water was the cool place to be during the July Fourth holiday weekend, and Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers stayed busy patrolling the state’s lakes, rivers and streams. Statewide, officers contacted more than 15,700 boaters in less than 72 hours.

“We had an open, increased patrol presence on the water during peak boating hours to let people know we were there,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Our goal during holiday patrols is to be involved with communities and respond to water incidents such as search and rescue, marine accidents and complaints of reckless boating. We hope that a visible presence will help prevent unfortunate events and keep boaters safe.”

Conservation officers spent the holiday and surrounding days ensuring boaters were sober and responsibly operating their watercraft. This included an emphasis on preventing drownings by enforcing life jacket requirements aboard vessels.

“We were focused on boating under the influence (BUI) enforcement along with making sure people had the proper safety gear on board while they were enjoying the beautiful weather,” said Conservation Officer Anna Cullen, who patrols Muskegon County.

Miskovich-CGF-August 2019

Leading up to the holiday weekend the DNR promoted its participation in Operation Dry Water – a national sober boating campaign.

A Portage Lake resident personally thanked Conservation Officer Todd Thorn after he and Conservation Officer Katie Baker arrested a drunk boater. According to the resident, the boater “almost caused several accidents” in front of his house.

When the boat operator saw the DNR vessel approaching, he drove away at high speeds, weaving between other boats in the slow, no-wake channel.

Once the officers stopped the boat, it was clear the 47-year-old operator was having a difficult time standing and speaking. After all passengers and the operator failed sobriety tests, Baker drove the boat and passengers safely back to shore and Thorn took the boat operator to jail for BUI. Thorn received the operator’s .179 blood alcohol content results earlier today.

More than 145 conservation officers participated in Operation Dry Water patrols. The highest BAC recorded by the DNR during the heightened sober boating campaign was .20.

Last year, alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; in incidents where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 23% of the deaths, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Conservation Officers Brenna Reed and Sgt. Chris Maher were patrolling Muscamoot Bay in St. Clair County when they encountered an intoxicated swimmer who had lost his friends. A passing boat took the swimmer onboard to get him out of deep water and officers helped him find his friends, despite unclear details about what his friends’ boat looked like or where it might be located.

“We prepared for a busy holiday and strategically placed officers in high use boating locations,” said Hagler. “Because many people are still on vacation, our officers will continue to have a visible presence on popular bodies of water during the upcoming weekend.”

Throughout the state conservation officers have noticed an increase in boating activity.

“All bodies of water in Oceana County experienced high marine activity, especially along Lake Michigan, Pentwater Lake and Silver Lake,” said Conservation Officer Ben Shively, who patrols that county.

Silver Lake residents and business owners told Shively they saw boater numbers they haven’t seen in years. Shively discussed marine safety with several boaters on the busy lake and ended his patrol by escorting a man back to shore who was on a personal watercraft with a 2-year-old after sunset.

Freeborn-Pictured Rocks

Officers in the Upper Peninsula noticed the same trends.

“It seemed to be just as busy if not busier than previous Fourth of July holidays,” said Conservation Officer Rob Freeborn, who patrolled Lake Michigan from Manistique to Fairport.

Patrol activity numbers from the DNR Law Enforcement Division, July 3-5, included more than:

  • 15,715 public contacts.
  • 830 warnings.
  • 170 civil infraction tickets.   
  • 70 criminal complaints.
  • 45 misdemeanor arrests.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect residents by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.

For the latest information on boating safety, regulations, harbors, boat launches, high water and more, visit Michigan.gov/Boating.

/Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows./

DNR patrol boat: Michigan DNR conservation officers contacted more than 15,700 boaters during the July 3-5 weekend. They will continue increased marine patrols through the upcoming weekend to ensure boaters are responsibly enjoying the water.

Freeborn: Conservation Officer Rob Freeborn conducts marine patrol in Lake Superior near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (July 2019).

Miskovich: Conservation Officer Jackie Miskovich talks to someone operating a personal watercraft in Lake Michigan offshore from Grand Haven State Park (July 2019).

DNR COVID-19 RESPONSE: For details on affected DNR facilities and services, visit this webpage. Follow state actions and guidelines at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus.

Census 2020