AP NEWS

Water rules: Boating experts stress safety

March 28, 2019

When it comes to boating, Sgt. Dan Semosky just wants people to follow the dam rules.

Semosky, a state police trooper stationed in Oxford, is also the marine patrol liaison to the Lake Zoar Authority, a multi-town organization tasked with promoting water quality and safe boating on Lake Zoar.

Four towns border Lake Zoar — Monroe, Oxford, Newtown and Southbury — and the lake runs from the Stevenson Dam to the Shepaug Dam.

The marine patrol boats hit the water in late May, and Semosky said he and others who patrol the lake look for everything from reckless boating to boating under the influence to boaters who don’t have proper personal flotation devices (more commonly known as life jackets).

He said there’s one offense officers deal with a lot.

“We do have a real problem with people approaching too close to the dams,” he said.

Though it’s not yet prime boating season, Semosky and others who patrol the area’s waterways are looking ahead to people hitting the water and encouraging them to boat safely.

Boating can be a fun way to enjoy nature, but experts said it can be dangerous.

According to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, there were nine boating-related deaths in Connecticut in 2017, the most recent year for which numbers were available, and 18 injuries. In one of those cases, 52-year-old Randall Pineau, of Newtown, was killed on Lake Zoar when a ski boat collided with a pontoon boat he was in. The operator of the ski boat was later arrested.

Hoping to avoid tragedies, state and local authorities are not just planning to patrol, but to educate boaters before they take to the water.

Next month, the Monroe Parks and Recreation Department is sponsoring a nine-hour boating and personal watercraft safety course at Masuk High School, 1014 Monroe Turnpike.

The class is coordinated by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Education is a big part of promoting boater safety, said Jerry Desmond, boating education coordinator for the DEEP boating division.

“DEEP taught more than 3,000 people (boating safety) last year,” he said.

Among the information Desmond and others are spreading include state boating regulations, particularly those governing life jackets. In Connecticut, anyone on board a manually propelled vessel — such as a canoe, kayak or rowboat — must wear certain types of U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets between Oct. 1 and May 31. Also, life jackets must be worn by anyone riding on a personal watercraft, anyone being pulled behind a boat and anyone 13 or younger.

However, Desmond said that it’s just a good rule of thumb for anyone on any boat to wear a personal flotation device.

“The real issue we always stress about boating safety is to wear a life jacket,” he said, adding that the devices are especially important for boaters braving the water now. “The weather is still cold and cold water causes shock and hypothermia. When people hit the water (after falling overboard), they can become debilitated very quickly.”

Another problem is boating under the influence, Desmond said. Adults are considered under the influence of alcohol if their blood alcohol content is at .08 and those younger than 21 are considered under the influence if their blood alcohol is at .02.

In Connecticut, the penalty for a first boating under the influence charge can include a fine between $500 and $1,000, a one-year suspension of boating privileges or six months in jail plus probation requiring 100 hours community service. Penalties get worse with subsequent offenses.

“We really encourage people not to drink and drive a boat,” Desmond said.

He said DEEP is constantly taking measures to make sure people stay safe on the water, including through its classes, its boating safety web site, patrols and education programs.

“We’re just constantly doing outreach,” Desmond said.