Law enforcement urges boat safety as more people turn to water ahead of the Fourth of July

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Officials encourage boat safety as more people turn to the water ahead of the Fourth of July. (WWMT/Hannah Knowles)

As West Michiganders prepared to go boating over the Fourth of July weekend, Allegan County deputies warned they would be on the lookout for those not following the law.

They said Friday, July 3 through Sunday, July 5, 2020 would be Operation Dry Water, a nationwide movement to catch people drinking and driving watercraft.

Lt. Bretton Ensfield with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office said with everyone stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, more people were ready to spend the summer outdoors.

“With this nice weather it’s going to be hot and optimum weather conditions for boating and alcohol consumption,” Ensfield said. “This weekend is no different than any other weekend. You should always wear your life jacket, have a driver, and limit the drinks in case something happens.”

Suzy Cwick has owned and operated Adventure Water Sports in South Haven for more than 30 years, together with her husband. Cwick said the start of the 2020 summer months were the busiest she had ever seen.

“This year is unlike any other year,” Cwick said. “The number of phone calls we are getting, I can’t pick up the phone fast enough.”

Cwick said a lot of her new customers were people she'd never rented to before. From pontoon boats to jet-skis, to ski boats, Cwick said her company didn’t have enough watercraft to meet the current demand.

“People want to get out of the house and be on the water,” she said. “With COVID-19 everyone has been kind of trapped inside and now people want to be in the fresh air doing active things in the water.”

Ensfield said the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office would be using all marine crews to patrol their county waters. He said if you’re heading to the water for the holiday, be prepared to see more officers.

“People are boating that have never been before, and they can get in a situation where they can't handle it,” Ensfield said. “76% of all drownings are individuals that aren’t wearing a life jacket.”

Cwick said she discusses safety measures with anyone taking a watercraft from her shop, and she makes sure the driver knows what to do.

“The biggest thing right now is the water traffic,” she said. “There are a lot of boats going in and out of the water. Anyone who's out there, you need to be more careful because there's a greater risk you could be hit.”

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