Fish and Boat Commission’s officers keep waterways safe

Waterways Conservation Officers Jake Bennett, left, and Darrell Miller, right, check the safety equipment on a boat they've stopped during a registration check on the 4th of July on the Susquehanna river. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

As the summer holiday season brings large numbers of people to bodies of water, boat regulations are enforced by Waterway Conservation officers to ensure public safety.

Similar to automobile regulations, there are set laws in place for boaters. The Fish and Boat Commission oversees all waterways in Pennsylvania.

A popular area available to local boaters is the Susquehanna River. On the Fourth of July, officers working for Waterway Conservation made an appearance on the river to patrol water activities.

“One of the things about boat accidents in general is they may be rare compared to say a vehicle accident, but they often are fatal or with severe injuries when they do happen. That’s just the nature of the water craft.” explained Jake Bennett, Waterway Conservation officer.

Individuals who drink while operating a boat is one of the more major offenses officers look out for.

Waterways Conservation Officers Jake Bennett, left, and Darrell Miller, right look for the proper registration stickers on boats as they pass by them on the 4th of July on the Susquehanna river. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

“Deterrence is the best enforcement in a lot of ways. So if people know we’re out and we’re here often, hopefully that will keep some of the issues down. The drinking, or whatever. At the end of the day, we want to avoid things such as fatal boat accidents,” said Bennett.

Unlike regulating drinking and driving on the road, it’s more difficult for officers to detect drinking and driving on the river. During stops, officers are better able to gage the coherence of drivers.

“We’re looking to make a lot of contact with a lot of boaters. Unlike the highway, you have two lines which you can observe a driver bouncing around in between and articulate a DUI stop, while here on the water we need to see how you can interact in person to be able to articulate those. You can swerve as much as you want on a boat, so long as you don’t violate the rules of the road,” said Bennett.

The officers only pull drivers over with probable cause, such as an overdue registration or illegible registration card. Once boats are pulled over, the officers also confirm a safety check, ensuring that there are enough floating devices on board, a sound producing device and fire extinguisher.

For each person on board a boat, there must be a floating device. On a 20 ft boat or less, each child 12 or younger must have a life jacket on.

“Every stop we will check for safety equipment. That being life jackets for everyone on board, a throwable device, motor safety education certificate if needed, some type of sound producing device, and obviously registration.” Said Darrell Miller II, Waterway Conservation officer.

In addition, the officers look for the speed on certain boats. If a boat is moving fast enough to produce white caps, it must be at least 100 feet away from swimmers, skiers, persons waiting in the water, anchors, moors, drifting boats, or floats. The waves can produce an unsafe environment for said individuals.

Karen Vibert-Kennedy and Dave Kennedy contributed to this multi-media reporting. A video can be found at the Williamsport Sun-Gazette’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt—zRQXp2M and on Facebook.


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