LOCAL LOWDOWN: Laws to know when boating
Family boating (Metro Graphics / July 5, 2013)
Hundreds will test the warming waters in pleasure crafts this weekend throughout Northern Michigan. It also means law enforcement will be out in force to keep the large number of people on the water safe.
Here are a few laws to keep in mind before getting in the water this weekend.
Drinking and driving
Those headed to sandbar parties and flotillas on the water should be aware that the laws on the water are different than the laws on the road in the Great Lake State.
Motor vehicle laws on the road limit drivers to 0.8 blood alcohol content, while those driving a boat are allowed a 0.10 blood alcohol content and may also consume alcohol while the boat is moving.
“It is legal to drink and drive — but they can’t drive drunk and we have to make that determination,” said Sgt. Dennis Jessick, of the Emmet County Sheriff’s Office boat patrol.
While boater drinking laws might appear more lax, officers can use sobriety tests and other factors when considering a citation.
One thing boats should also consider, Jessick says, is something caused “boater fatigue syndrome” that can be heightened by alcohol.
“You get the heat pounding down, the engine vibration, the noise all put together paired with a little alcohol and everything can go negative,” Jessick said. “So, we ask boaters to be responsible — have a wonderful time — but be responsible.”
Michigan law enforcement can spot at a distance wrong-colored registrations, making it a quick ticket for anyone not current.
“It’s something we watch for very closely,” Jessick said.
While the current registration color should be blue, Jessick says many people look at the year number alone — which can be misleading because the registrations expire March 31 of the sticker year.
Another law highly enforced in Michigan is the requirement to the right number of flotation devices onboard at all times.
Each occupant on a boat must have a personal flotation device. But, people commonly stow life jackets and cushions in a compartment or locked cabinet, which is against the law.
“They must be out and readily accessible,” Jessick said. “We find that to be a huge problem.”
The Michigan law also requires anyone under 6 years old to be wearing a flotation device when in an open vessel.
“The problem with it is, if there is an explosion or boat fire — whatever — mom or dad are going to grab the youth and jump in the water,” he said. “Now the little one goes right underwater and the parent is trying to get both life jackets on at once.”
Slow No Wake
Maintaining a minimal wake is enforced in most of the popular rivers in Northern Michigan at various points, especially in the Inland Waterway that includes Crooked River, Indian River and the Cheboygan River. The law is meant to tamp property damage and erosion in fragile areas.
Boats are required to keep their wakes smaller than natural occurring waves in the given area. Those who violate the no wake enforced areas — indicated by a sign with a red circle and the wording “Slow No Wake” — can be charged with a misdemeanor and get up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. The driver can also be held responsible for property damage, such as a swamped boat or damage to a dock.
In open water, boats are required to pass at least 100 feet from anchored boats and docks.
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