INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - This holiday weekend promises to be one of the busiest of the year on land and on the water. There are a few things you may need to know to stay safe on the water.
The days start early for Indiana Conservation Officer John Gano. He patrols the waters of Geist Reservoir several days a week, and no weekend is busier than a holiday weekend.
"July 4th weekend is one of the busiest times on the water" says Gano. "Later in the day, that's when you get a lot more congestion -- that's when the alcohol starts to take effect and it gets more dangerous."
Gano drives around the Reservoir, stopping boats to check for driver's license and boat registration. He also checks for enough life jackets to go around. All boats must carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation devices for each passenger, but state law doesn't require passengers to wear them.
The most important part of Gano's interaction is with the person operating the boat. Basically, the boat's operator must be sober.
"We can't stop a boat just for alcohol use because there's not an Open Container Law in the State of Indiana," says Gano. "So, what we're looking for is moving violations or traffic violations. That allows us to stop the boat for a traffic offense and then check for alcohol. And who we're looking at specifically is the operator."
Under Indiana law, it's not illegal to consume or possess alcoholic beverages while on the water, although, as is the case with operating a motor vehicle, the state's .08 blood-alcohol limit applies. But if an officer notices something like bloodshot eyes, slurred speech or the stench of alcohol, a field sobriety test is inevitable.
"We do carry Portable Breath Test machines with us on the boat so that we can get a blood alcohol level of the driver of a boat. Obviously if you blow above .08 in Indiana, that's illegal and we're going to take you to the Hamilton County Jail."
Even in our limited number of waterways in Indiana, the US Coast Guard investigates several dozen recreational boating accidents every year. Some of them even result in death.
When it comes to kids in Indiana, children as young as 15 can operate a boat, as long as they have identification present and have certification that they've completed a Boater's Safety Course. Anyone 16 or older who is licensed in the state of Indiana, is not required to take the Boater's Safety Course.
John Gano says "I've had children as young as 8, unsupervised, operating these personal watercraft jet-skis and they'll go in excess of 60 miles per hour and obviously that's not safe!"
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