River-cruising deputies look for boozy boaters

See why Sheriff’s Deputies are are writing tickets on rivers all over Multnomah County‚

On hot, sunny days, the boat dock at Sellwood Riverfront Park is abuzz with boaters and swimmers.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As cool, wet June weather started to give way to hot July days‚ recreational watercraft suddenly appeared on our rivers in record numbers.

“This week is the start of our boating season,” says Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Sgt. Tim Lichatowich, as we step off the floating dock at Sellwood Riverfront Park an onto Sheriff’s Patrol boat “Freedom” in July 4.

In the cabin, we’re greeted by our captain, 14-year MCSO veteran Deputy Joe Graziano, who says he’s been “on and off river duty” for five years.

“This is the first major boating traffic we’ve had this year,” observes Lichatowich. “It seems that everyone pulled their boat, jet ski, or wave-runner out at the same time.”

This boater earned a violation citation issued by MCSO River Patrol Sgt. Tim Lichatowich for buzzing a boat dock at full power.

Ticketed for “buzzing the dock”
Minutes after we head north, toward downtown, Graziano flips on the lights and sirens and we head for an open-cabin outboard-powered boat.

“We’re seeing a lot of wake violations today,” explains Lichatowich. “We’ll be issuing a citation to this boater violating the ‘no-wake rule’. He was at full power less than 200 feet from the dock. We’re seeing a lot of that today.”

During their tour of duty so far today, Lichatowich says they’ve given out three warning tickets. “They all could have been tickets. I’m trying not to ruin people’s afternoon. But for gross violations, we have to issue a ticket.”

MCSO River Patrol Deputy Joe Graziano keeps an eye out for “deadheads”‚ logs floating just under the surface of the water‚ that can sink a boat or seriously injure a water-skier.

On the lookout for boozy boaters
After touring the Ross Island Lagoon, Graziano circles around near the dock at Sellwood Riverfront Park. “One concern is powered watercraft operating too fast near the dock,” says Lichatowich. “It’s not a swimming dock, but you can see swimming there on a hot day. It’s easy for folks in the water to be hit by a boat flying around there.”

The Sheriff’s patrol officers say they’re looking for people who are drinking. “The combination of alcohol and the hot sun slows the reactions and impairs decision-making for boat drivers,” Graziano says.

Lichatowich points out to us some people drinking on a boat tied to the dock. “We’ll check them later. It is not considered being ‘under operation’ if they’re docked.”

River Patrol officers warn that they’ve seen raw sewage flow out of this pipe, near Ross Island, even on hot, sunny days.

Hidden river hazards
“Especially for people waterskiing, watch out for ‘deadheads’ ‚Äì logs floating just below the water,” warns Graziano. “They’re dark, and it’s hard to see them. But if you hit one, it can sink your boat or cause serious injury to a skier. Make a couple of passes and check out the area before you ski.”

Another hidden hazard, Graziano says, is Willamette River water itself. He comments that he’s leery of water quality. “I’ve seen sewage flowing from the outfalls on a nice sunny day,” Graziano says pointing to the large, concrete pipe near Ross Island.

“It was a pretty murky brown, and we could smell it. There have been kayakers paddling in what amounts to raw sewage. I always wash my hands after I touch the water here.”

Safe boating suggestions

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office River Patrol reminds boaters:

  • Don’t drink and boat;
  • Don’t overload your boat;
  • Carry a cell phone in case of an emergency;
  • Make sure your running lights work;
  • Ensure children under 12 years wear a life jacket, and that there is a serviceable life jacket on board for everyone (and they suggest that all passengers wear their life jacket while on board a boat);
  • Ensure all your required equipment is on board and in good working order;
  • Be patient at boat launches (allow plenty of lead time to launch your boat);
  • Keep a good look out for other boaters;
  • Watch your wake around moorages and other small craft;
  • Be courteous; and,
  • If you don’t have a required boater education card, get one.

Because he wasn’t endangering anyone, this personal watercraft user was simply given a warning for traveling too fast through a no-wake zone.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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