It’s been on the books for a number of years: operate a watercraft while intoxicated and you receive the same penalty as if you were operating a vehicle on the roadways. So it’s nothing new. But what is new is the increased presence of Department of Natural Resource Law Enforcement Officers on the lake.
Anyone who reads jail bookings has likely seen an influx in OWI boating arrests in the last few weeks. There’s no special boating under the influence task force and no extra funds are being spent. It’s just DNR officers doing their job under the leadership of a new lieutenant who is asking officers to enforce the laws respectfully and in an aggressive matter.
Prior to Lt. John Kariss taking the reigns at District 1, officers would only be seen on the lake when their schedules allowed. But that’s not the case anymore.
“If you’re operating a boat safely, (with no obvious violations),” states Kariss, “the officer will wave and everyone will have a good day. But if he has reasonable suspicion or there’s a visible violation, you’ll be stopped for a quick check.” Kariss said the intent is to have an unintrusive stop, acknowledge the violation and its remedy, possibly issue a citation, but do all of it in quick time to the officer and the boater.
“The purpose is to reduce the number of boating violations,” stated Kariss who took command of District 1 last July. “We want to make the water safer and we’re attempting to get as many intoxicated operators off the water as we can.”
“What I wanted to do as the new commander is demonstrate in a positive way, ways to make the water safer for (boaters) and their families,” Kariss added. “The best way is education … public speaking. The enforcement means is the loudest way to get the message out unfortunately.”
Kariss said boating and drinking seems to be a cultural activity that has been allowed to perpetuate due to lack of attention and enforcement. “If people are upset over the assertive efforts, it was not meant to offend,” Kariss stated.
Kariss feels the DNR may get a black eye over the issue, but when it’s all said and done, they are doing the best they can to get the message out to not drink and operate a watercraft.
Unlike previous administration rules, District 1 now has two officers specifically dedicated to boat patrols in Kosciusko County. “The latitude of their work and only work is boating related issues,” Kariss stated. He explained they may start out on one lake and find little boat traffic and move on to
Increased lake patrols will be on local waters over the upcoming holiday, June 30 through July 8.
Kariss advised boaters who want to drink to have a designated boat operator.
Kariss encouraged individuals with questions about boating regulations to call the district office at 574-457-8092. Dispatchers can also contact conservation officers at any time to return phone calls.