BERLIN CENTER, Ohio (WYTV) – Friday marks the first day Mahoning County Sheriff’s Deputies are patrolling the water for the unofficial start of boating season.
Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest of the year for boating.
“People in Ohio love to boat because they don’t get a lot of nice weather,” Deputy Lisa Beam said.
Ten deputies are assigned to the Sheriff’s Marine Patrol Unit, funded through a $27,000 grant.
“The grant says we’re required to be out there the majority of the weekends and all holiday weekends,” Captain Ken Kountz said. “The main thing we do is enforce the laws of the state of Ohio, as far as the watercraft laws. We want everyone to have a safe summer.”
Some of those laws have to do with life jackets, alcoholic beverages and licenses.
Beam says if you’re going out on the water, you’ll need to have life jackets.
“If the boat holds ten people, there should be ten life jackets, even if there are only four boaters that day.”
Life jackets are required for children under the age of 13, non-swimmers, people on a boat less than 16 feet long, or people on a kayak or canoe.
“If we see little kids wearing their life jackets, we pull up and issue them a…coupon that lets them get a free ice cream cone down the street at Blosser’s. They like it, they think it’s cool,” Beam said.
Alcohol is prohibited on the land and water at Berlin Lake or Lake Milton. The Army Corps of Engineers says alcohol is involved in more than half of all drownings.
Open fires, firearms and ammunition are also prohibited.
Licenses are only required for some boaters. If you were born in 1983 or earlier, you do not need a license. However, anyone born after 1983 needs to take an online safety course.
Deputies are not just handing out tickets, though. Last summer, there were 39 search and rescues on the water.
“Whether the boat broke down with a bunch of people on board, because it’s not like you can pull over to the side of the road, they’re stranded,” Kountz said.
Boaters should also be aware of changing weather and lake conditions, underwater obstructions and floating debris. Deputies say they should also be considerate to other boaters and never swim alone.
They say the most important things to have on-hand while on the water are a distress flag, a fire extinguisher and an anchor.