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Macomb County Sheriff's Office patrols waters to keep people out of trouble

Macomb County Marine Division educates boaters on staying safe

Sgt. Frank Bednard of the Macomb County Sheriff Marine Division wants people on the water to remember something:  "If you float, you can live."

The U.S. Coast Guard's 2014 report revealed 84 percent of all boating accident drownings happened because victims weren't wearing life jackets.

Bednard said boats must have life jackets for each person on board, and they must fit. He said it is not enough to have an adult-sized life jacket for a child. The life jackets also must be accessible in case of an emergency. Bednard said the law says children under 6 must wear a type 1 or 2 personal flotation device on the open deck of a boat.

"We would rather have people wear them and not have to worry about it, but that's folks' choice," Bednard said.

Bednard and his team patrol Lake St. Clair and the waters of Macomb County looking for potential problems and people violating safety laws.

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"People operating recklessly, they're endangering themselves or endangering other people out there is a big one we look for," said Bednard. 

Bednard told Local 4 that the Macomb County Sheriff's office focuses on safety through education.

"We can't do (anything) to really stop accidents once it's happening but we can educate people to know what's important to keep them safe, keep them from getting into an accident," said Bednard.

Deputies in the Marine Division stop boaters for safety inspections ensuring boaters have enough life jackets and other floatation devices among other requirements.

"We have speed laws out here specifically called the no-wake laws that we enforce when people are going too fast. It's supposed to be idle speeds in rivers. It's clearly marked for people to know," said Bednard. "For every 10 contacts, stops we have we probably give one ticket, two tickets."

Bednard said the Macomb County Marine Division has eight full-time staff members in the summer, two deputies on the day shift and four deputies with a sergeant on the afternoon shift.  They also a volunteer force of 88 marine safety officers who donate their time to help keep the waters safe.

The Macomb County Marine Division recommends everyone who enjoys the water take a safe-boating class.

Todd Brinkman of Rochester likes to see the deputies patrolling the water.  

"When you got your family out here you want everybody to be safe," said Brinkman. "I feel like I'm doing nothing wrong so I don't have anything to worry about, but I see other people that, you know, one time I was towing my daughter and another boat cut in right behind me."

The U.S. Coast Guard said operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol use are the top factors for boat crashes.

According to the Coast Guard's 2014 report, Michigan had 97 accidents last year, 18 were fatal.

The Macomb County Sheriff reported 21 boating accidents last year and 12 in 2013.  Bednard said weather affects the number of crashes from year to year.

"The traffic picks up as people anticipate better weather. They start making plans for the weekend and they come out on their boat," Bednard said.

Deputies want boaters to remember cellphone, have GPS and call them if you get into trouble. They also recommend having a marine VHF radio on board and using channel 16 if you're in distress.

"If you follow the safety laws in the water, you'll stay safe," Bednard said.

The state is cracking down on drinking and boating.

The law changed this year subjecting boaters to the same blood-alcohol limit as drivers.  That changes the legal boating limit to 0.08 percent instead of 0.10.  Deputies told Local 4 they're always on the lookout for that.

For more information on the Macomb County Marine Division and resources it offers, click here.

For the full U.S. Coast Guard report, click here.