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Laws Of The Lake

July 11, 2014, 9:55 PM by Jared Ransom

Laws Of The Lake
OKOBOJI, IA -

Being a patrol officer on the Iowa Great Lakes has its perks. There's a boat, there's the people, and there's plenty of open water. That body of water can offer its share of dangers, which is where Steve Reighard and the rest of the DNR staff comes in.

"Probably the biggest difference, of course, between driving a vehicle versus a vessel, you don't have a strict road out here on the lakes," Reighard said.

Reighard's been patrolling the lake for two years now, and each time he gets on the boat, he knows exactly what he's looking for.

"One of the biggest violations we see is the speed and distance regulations. Here in Dickinson County, all our lakes are five miles an hour or less if you're within 300 feet of shore. We don't have buoys out in front of every house, that has to be judged by the individuals on the lake," Reighard said.

He also wants to see a safe distance between each boat in order to avoid high speed collisions. 

DNR officers say they have noticed boaters are better about handling alcohol. Reighard says they're starting to catch on about how different the effects are on water.

"What a lot of people don't realize is the effects of being on a lake actually enhance the effects of alcohol versus on shore. Fatigue, the sun, bouncing around in the waves all day," Reighard said.

During the last boating while intoxicated campaign earlier this year, no boaters broke that law.

Reighard says that when people see the law enforcement boat, it should be a constant reminder to be safe while you're having fun. However, sometimes the easy ways to protect yourself go by the wayside.

"When we do a stop, we also do a boat inspection at the same time, and many, many times, the PFD's, or life jackets, are stored down in compartments, and people can't get to them in emergency situations," Reighard said.

Having life jackets readily available for each person on the boat is one law Reighard will remind people of every day. Recent examples of accidents drive his point home.

"Not this year, but a year ago, we had five drownings here at the lake," Reighard said. "Two we believe may have been medical-related. Had the other three been wearing a life jacket at that time, there's a very good chance that they would not have drowned."

Next on the list of ways people are getting hurt on the water is the driver not knowing what they are doing at the controls.

"Where we're seeing some of the accident issues is the time on the water, the experience. They come in with no experience, rent a boat and know none of the regulations," Reighard said.

Reighard says boat rental shops are helping out with that by making sure the driver is well-versed in how to drive the boat.

Just like law enforcement on the land, the DNR officers are out there for your protection, and their number one rule for you is to be safe and have a great time.

"We're into July, it's getting hotter. Have a great time while you're here. Be safe while you're here. Wave at us, we'll wave at you, and go home in one piece because that's our job. We want everyone to have a great time and go home in one piece," Reighard said.

If you plan on heading out on the lakes this summer, Reighard recommends that everyone brush up on the updated list of laws for the state just so you are fully prepared for your day on the water.

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