Powerboat fun seekers were quick to throw a nervous wave on Saturday as the Maine Warden Service patrol boat swiftly passed them on Sebago Lake.
For boaters who have been approached and vetted by Manager Neal Wykes and Manager Sgt. Kyle Hladik, there was often a worried look on their faces.
Boating and paddling have inherent dangers such as the risk of drowning or injury in the water. The danger increases when people do not wear life jackets. And while boaters may think they’re prepared for the worst-case scenario, a recent jaunt with the Maine Warden Service showed some aren’t taking proper precautions.
Maine recorded 38 boating-related deaths from 2015 to 2019, according to the National Association of Safe Boating Law Administrators. This included 28 drownings, including 22 with people who were not wearing life jackets. Ten deaths were not attributable to drowning.
In 2019 alone, Maine experienced 43 boating accidents resulting in 17 injuries and four deaths.
And just this summer, a fisherman who wasn’t wearing a life jacket drowned on Roxbury Pond last week, and in June a fisherman on the East Arm of the Kennebec River drowned after his raft capsized. He was not wearing a life jacket.
These numbers explain why patrolling Sebago and other waters is serious business for game wardens, who are committed to ensuring that boat operators and anglers have registered their watercraft and follow safety laws. and fishing.
They efficiently and quickly covered the southern and eastern part of the lake in a 25-foot Rigid Hull Inflatable built by Safe Boats International that features twin 250-hp supercharged Mercury Verado outboard motors.
It wasn’t long before custodians arrested a handful of boats that didn’t display an up-to-date registration sticker — or even a boat number — as required by state law.
A group of five people, sailing in a boat borrowed from a family member, quickly provided proof that the craft was registered. They also produced the required number of personal flotation devices, a fire extinguisher and proved that the boat had a working horn.
However, after the occupants removed the life jackets from a rear storage space, Wykes gave them some practical – and potentially life-saving – advice.
“People store their life jackets in the engine bay, not thinking that if there’s a fire they’ll have to get off the boat and they won’t be able to access the life jackets,” said Wykes, who is the oldest Maine manager with 41 years of service.
He summed up his summer duties – which include overseeing boating, fishing and other activities in five southern Maine towns – simply: “Basically, it’s about teaching common sense to people who don’t have it.”
During Saturday’s Guardian Patrol on Sebago, the focus was on complying with boating laws and sharing information on rules and safety of operations.
Guardians have seen what happens when proper preparation and care is not taken.
“Things can go wrong pretty quickly: you fall off the boat and you can’t reach a life jacket in time to throw it at someone,” said Hladik, who as a member of the dive team at the Maine Warden Service, recovered. bodies of dead people in the water.
“We see, from the front row, situations ending in tragedy, and we think we can help prevent some of these things from happening in the future and that’s what we want to do,” he said. he declared.
Guardians have not apologized for the need to crack down on people who appear to be deliberately breaking the law or disregarding boating safety practices.
“We’re here to promote safety, but we’re taking a very hard line because of what we’ve seen,” Wykes said. “People who don’t take security seriously end up paying the ultimate price.”
The keepers were friendly but direct when encountering people operating boats that had no visible registration numbers and/or stickers. All persons controlled by the guards were able to produce the required documentation.
“We’re going to educate within reason, but we’re also in the business of enforcement,” Wykes said.
One boating law they often see broken is exceeding the forward speed inside the safe water zone, which is the area 200 feet from the shore of the mainland or an island. Some also don’t know that forward speed means the slowest speed a boat can move forward.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s boaters, snowmobiles, hunting or fishing. It is the responsibility of the individual participating in this activity to take the time and know the laws,” Wykes said.
Ultimately, Saturday’s patrol on Sebago was cut short due to high winds and choppy waters, hampering rangers’ efforts to conduct checks and drastically reducing the number of boats on the lake.
Most Sebago boaters were found to be compliant with Maine laws, although some needed a refresher course on how to properly display a listing.
“A lot of times we don’t arrest people because they’ve done something wrong. That’s a lot of positive encounters,” Hladik said. “Overall, 90% of people do everything right.”