The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) Marine Patrol anticipates heavy boating traffic July 3-5 and troopers will be out in force on state waterways to maintain safety during the holiday weekend.
“Marine Patrol troopers will be working shifts to coincide with traffic patterns and will be targeting areas where we’ve received complaints or experienced issues,” said Deputy Chief Matt Brooks. “We will be conducting a number of enforcement details around the state to coincide with the national Operation Dry Water campaign, which specifically targets operators impaired by alcohol or drugs.”
Brooks said troopers are reporting higher-than-normal weekday boating traffic for this time of the year. He said recent weekend and holiday traffic has been heavy, noting that nice weather contributes to the waterway influx.
ALEA officers have used and encouraged social distancing guidelines the past three months and will continue to promote “personal responsibility” and hygiene protocols, said Brooks. Health guidelines recommended by state and federal experts are effective in protecting boaters and the Marine Patrol Division, which has had no officers test positive for COVID-19, he said.
Despite the pandemic, many boaters went onto Alabama’s 1,600 miles of rivers and 53 miles of Gulf coastline during the May 23-25 Memorial Day holiday. The 2020 red snapper fishing season has been closed early because so many private anglers and charter vessels went after the prized fish. Brooks doesn’t expect a boating slowdown this weekend and urged taking steps to ensure proper boat maintenance and sobriety for pilots.
“Most of our crashes that occur during the 4th of July holiday period occur at night, and many of those involve alcohol,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical that each vessel have a sober operator – and no one unfamiliar with night-time operation should pick this particular weekend to be on the water after dark. Operators who do choose to boat at night should check, double-check and re-check their navigation lights to make sure they’re within code and in good working order. Navigation light requirements will be strictly enforced.”
Boaters should ensure that they have required safety equipment on board before leaving a dock or shore, Brooks said. While one safety vest for each passenger is required, children younger than 8 must at all times wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD).
Exceptions that require boaters age 8 and older to wear a life vest:
- Any person being towed on water skis, tubes, etc.
- Any person operating or riding on a personal watercraft.
- Any occupant of a boat within 800 feet below a hydroelectric or navigational lock and dam.
Every operator should check boat safety equipment to make sure it is serviceable and easily located, Brooks said. A list of required equipment is at www.alea.gov under the Marine Patrol section.
Brooks urged boaters to take their time on the waters and keep their wits in dealing with others in what will surely be crowded and hot holiday conditions.
“Be courteous,” he said. “Even when you feel like you have the right of way or the other operator has made a mistake – be courteous. Slow down, avoid heavily congested areas and pay attention. Always maintain a proper lookout. Know and follow the rules of the road.”