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Deputies keep river boaters safe

Labor Day will mark an end to successful Ohio River police patrols, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department officials said.

Tuesday, August 31, 1999

Labor Day will mark an end to successful Ohio River police patrols, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department officials said.

"Boaters have been a little more active this year because the weather’s been dry almost every weekend," said Detective Carol Kitts, who directs the department’s Water Patrol education program.

"But most people have listened to us when we’ve told them no," Ms. Kitts said.

The program, funded by an Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant, provides deputy funding, education materials and boat patrols each weekend and at special events between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

As of last week, river patrol deputies had spent 338 hours on the water and had issued 44 warnings for boating violations this year, Ms. Kitts said.

Of those 44 warnings, the majority were caused by equipment problems, like boaters not having the required number of life vests. Others were operation violations, like speeding in no wake zones, she said.

"We gave one citation, for a person who ignored a no wake warning," Ms. Kitts said. "We warn first and write second. It’s all part of trying to educate boaters and keep them safe."

Wake violations seemed rampant on the river this year, mostly because boaters are unaware that speed must be kept to a minimum near boat ramps, landings and marinas, the detective said.

State regulations for river traffic require boaters and jet ski riders not to cause a wake within 300 feet of the Center Street Landing, for instance, Ms. Kitts said.

That means 300 feet from either side of the ramp, up and down the river, and 300 feet out into the river, she said.

"It’s important to learn these things, and other rules of navigation, in order for boaters to remain safe while on the water," Ms. Kitts added.

The program also conducts safety and boating certificate courses throughout the year. Most people either now have a certificate or are old enough that they were grandfathered in to the new requirement, she said.

Despite the violation warnings this year, deputies feel like those people who want to enjoy the Ohio River are doing it safely, Ms. Kitts said.

"There may be some weekends when you feel like nobody’s paying attention to any rules, but then there’s more weekends when you feel like if people hadn’t paid attention, we would’ve had some real problems."

Also, alcohol use on the river did not seem like a major problem this year, Ms. Kitts said.

"Kentucky has a no-open-container law and we were so visible," she said.

After patrolling one last river event in late September, the sheriff’s department will park the patrol boat on land until next year, unless there’s an emergency, Ms. Kitts said.

"We always want to keep the river safe," she said.