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Water wise

Safety key to smooth sailing on area lakes
By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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It was a smoky Sunday afternoon but Auburn’ Shawna Hydinger and her family were still set on an afternoon on the water. While the thick smoke from area fires may have kept many boaters away Sunday, lake law enforcement officials say this is the time of year when the number of boaters peaks and safety becomes an issue. As Hydinger and her daughters were readying their boat, she said she’s happy to see a prominent police presence on the water. “It’s pretty much common sense what you need to do for safety,” Hydinger said. “I don’t think anyone’s being unfairly ticketed.” The Nevada County Sheriff’s Department and the Placer County Sheriff’s Office split patrol duties on the lake because it includes both counties, said Philip Easley, deputy sheriff assigned to marine patrol for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department. He said common problems on the lake are boaters not abiding by the 50 mph speed limit and the rule that all direction must run counterclockwise along the lake. He said some boaters are caught speeding through no-wake zones or too close to designated swim areas. Signs stating lake rules are posted at dock entry points to the lake, but sometimes those signs are ripped down, Easley said. Weimar resident Beverly Hanson said her husband was stopped on the water for exceeding the speed limit. As locals, she said they were unaware that a speed limit was in place. Her husband received a warning but no citation, she said. Easley said typically most water law enforcement officials try to warn boaters the first time they pull them over. But over the past few years, they have had to issue more citations in an effort to reduce the number of boating accidents on area lakes. “We wind up with a few people getting citations who are not used to getting citations,” Easley said. “But without writing tickets, we used to get 40 or more boating accidents a year. Now that’s between two and six.” A citation for violating a county ordinance costs a flat $367. If a boater breaks a state law, the fine can range from $35 for a lack of vessel certification on board to $500 for unsafe boating, Easley said. Easley added that prior to enforcing boating rules, he would issue about 140 verbal warnings a day and the boating accidents continued. He said when law enforcement finally started to issue tickets, the number changed. He initially issued about 28 citations a day. That number dropped to three to five in a short time, he said. “Pretty soon word got out that we were not just bluffing,” Easley said. Citations are issued for speeding, traveling too fast in a no-wake zone, not having enough life jackets on board, not using a flag to alert other boaters of a swimmer in the water and more. Easley stressed that law enforcement is not out to randomly cite boaters. “Our goal out here isn’t to bring in revenue for the county or to the state,” Easley said. “It’s to make the waterways safe and I think we’re doing a really good job of it.” Ken and Missy Kitlas, who have had a slip at the Long Ravine docking area since 2000, said they agreed. “The weekend boats are a little less predictable, but I’ve found it pretty sane out here,” Missy Kitlas said. “Patrol has a good handle on it.” Missy Kitlas said they were pulled over one afternoon by a marine patrol on a jet ski. They had a skier in the water and had temporarily lowered their flag to switch drivers. She said the officer was polite and only issued a warning. “We put the flag down and in a split second the jet ski came over,” she said. “But that’s a positive thing.” One potential problem on the waterways Missy Kitlas said she and her husband eliminate all together is alcohol. Easley said boating under the influence can happen sooner than boaters expect. “People need to understand that if you’re in an automobile, most of the time three to four drinks is all it takes to be above .08,” Easley said. “In a boat it only takes two to three drinks because of all of the stressors.” Easley said boaters can pick up a free copy of boating laws at their local sheriff’s department. “There’s a reason for them,” Easley said. “It’s the only way we’re all going to stay safe on the waterway.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.