Waterways have rules, too

Published 12:04 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

Alabama Marine Police Sgt. John Bozeman talks with boater Wesley Meeks on Friday about safety rules and regulations on Alabama’s waterways. | Kendra Bolling/Star-News

The Fourth of July weekend is here, and with it comes more water recreation and more people enjoying an alcoholic beverage or two.

Sgt. John Bozeman of the Marine Police said boaters should be mindful that it’s illegal to drink and drive a boat, just as it is with a car.

Bozeman said this weekend will boast an increased number of marine vehicles on the county’s waterways.

“A lot of times I see people drinking and driving on the boat,” he said. “And other times, people tell us that they’ve observed other boaters using alcohol.”

Bozeman said under state law, Marine Police do not have to have probable cause to stop boaters on the waterways.

“Which means, we can stop you anytime,” he said. “If we think someone is drinking, then we’ll stop you.”

Overall, Bozeman said the number of boaters drinking and driving has decreased since he was assigned to this area.

“Most people know I enforce the law,” he said. “They know if they drink and operate a vessel, I will stop them. Most of the time, they have designated drivers.”

Bozeman also said it’s also important for passengers to remember they can be arrested for public intoxication.

“If they want to show out and cause a scene, we’ll take them to jail,” he said. “When it’s really hot, people drink more than they think because they stay thirsty, but alcohol dehydrates your body.”

Underage drinking is still an issue, he said.

“I make several arrests for underage drinking on the water,” he said. “So far this year, I’ve arrested six or seven for minors in consumption.”

Bozeman said that he’ll also be patrolling for safety reasons as well.

“I’ll be checking to make sure people have enough life jackets,” he said. “You must have one for everyone on the boat.”

Additionally, children under 8 must wear a life jacket at all times, and people on personal water craft such as jet skis are required to wear them at all times, too.

Bozeman said so far this year, there have been 11 fatalities on Alabama’s waterways.

“That’s a little higher than normal,” he said. “Of those, we would have only had one, if they had been wearing their life jackets.”

In fact, 90 percent of fatalities are from drowning because they didn’t wear a life jacket, Bozeman said.

“It does save your life,” he said.