Clark County sheriff's deputies step up water patrols

Goal of national project is to arrest drunken boaters, keep people safe

By Stefanie Donahue, Columbian staff writer

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Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Gadaire slowly shifted the jet boat toward the Marine Park boat launch Friday afternoon. He spotted a personal watercraft that lacked the proper licensing display.

A few minutes later, after the watercraft owner was warned, another boater asked Gadaire for assistance with a dead battery.

These are just a few of the common encounters for deputies at the Clark County Sheriff's Office Marine Patrol.

Gadaire was accompanied by Deputy Dick Butler. The team began its Friday patrol along the Columbia River at noon and planned to navigate the waters until about 9 p.m., Gadaire said.

Their main goal: "To keep waterways safe and arrest any boaters that are under the influence," he said.

Recreational boaters may notice an increase in Marine Patrol deputies this weekend along the Columbia River and local lakes through Operation Dry Water 2013. The operation is a nationally coordinated effort to educate boaters, reduce accidents and eliminate fatalities related to boating under the influence, according to a news release.

Regional marine deputies are looking for boaters with a blood alcohol content that exceeds the state limit of .08, according to the news release.

Friday was the first nice day of the boating season, said Gadaire. Within the next few days, he expects to encounter common boating problems such as dead motors or bad gas, and boats with violations such as expired licenses.

The most important thing, though, is finding and arresting intoxicated boaters.

Alcohol use is a leading factor in fatal recreational boating accidents, accounting for 17 percent of deaths on the water in the United States, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Washington law prohibits anyone from operating a boat under the influence of any alcohol or drug. A person convicted of boating under the influence may face a jail sentence up to 90 days, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Many Oregon boaters launched at Marine Park and Wintler Park on Friday as a result of Portland's 42nd Street Boat Ramp being closed for renovation, Gadaire said. The boat launch may reopen for the Fourth of July.

Operation Dry Water is a joint program of Washington State Parks and Recreation, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the Coast Guard and local marine enforcement officers.

Funding for the extra patrols comes from Washington State Parks and Recreation, according to the news release.

The ultimate goal of the marine patrol is to always keep the waterways safe, Gadaire said.

Stefanie Donahue: 360-735-4510; stefanie.donahue@columbian.com.