The buoys of summer
Kootenai County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ryan Miller heads out on Lake Coeur d'Alene Wednesday to check on training exercises for marine deputies.
Kootenai County Sheriff’s Marine Deputy Gerald Wallace departs a boat at Higgens Point on Wednesday.
A Jet Ski operator with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office takes part in the training on Lake Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday.
Kootenai County Sheriff's Office seasonal deputies take part in training exercises on Wednesday on Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Staff Writer | May 13, 2021 1:09 AM
COEUR d’ALENE — It’s estimated that about 50 people will be arrested this year on Idaho’s waterways for operating a boat under the influence of alcohol.
The majority of those will be in North Idaho.
“Education is what we prefer,” said Kootenai County Sheriff’s Marine Deputy Gerald Wallace. “If the education doesn’t work, we sometimes have to issue a citation.”
The retired sheriff from Colorado joined the KCSO in 2018. He said most Kootenai County boaters are responsible, safe and follow the rules. But some will drink too much. Some won’t wear life jackets. Some will go too fast and ignore no-wake rules. Some just want to have fun at the expense — and endangerment — of others.
Marine deputies will be ready and waiting for them.
Sgt. Ryan Miller, KCSO recreation safety supervisor, took over in January and is in charge of search and rescue operations, the 13-person dive team, and the marine patrol of the county’s 18 lakes and 54 miles of rivers.
This summer, he’ll oversee a team of 10 seasonal marine deputies who will be supervised by two full-time marine deputies.
Wednesday they were on Lake Coeur d’Alene, launching Jet Skis and boats from Higgens Point as part of a monthlong training in the classroom and on the water.
Today, is a final exam.
“Then, they’re ready to go,” Miller said.
Of the 10 seasonal marine deputies, only one is a returnee. The rest are new. It’s the most seasonal deputies that will be on the water since 2007, where there were 12, Miller said.
They are preparing for what they will face each day this summer, and it's not all fun in the sun. Not everyone boating on Lake Coeur d’Alene adheres to the laws and is courteous and friendly to officers. So while deputies hope all is smooth sailing, they will be ready for encounters with belligerent boaters, too.
With about 20,000 registered boaters and more than 44,000 navigable acres for boaters to enjoy, Kootenai County is the largest boating community in Idaho, according to the county website.
It has 21 boat launches and 52,000 square feet of dock at 25 different locations.
So, it’s going to be a busy summer on local lakes and rivers, including those coming over from other states.
Marine deputies have a tough job, he said, and it seems to get tougher rather than easier.
“Some people on the water they don’t want to recognize their authority and don’t want to abide by the rules and laws because they’re out there to have a good time,” Miller said.
Deputies went through simulations on Wednesday, working with a dispatcher, stopping boats and Jet Skis operated by KCSO personnel for any number of reasons.
“You never know what to expect so we try to prepare them for everything,” Miller said.
A key emphasis this year will be enforcing no-wake zones on the Spokane River.
“Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday I’m going to add an additional team to the Spokane River for enforcement,” Miller said.
Teams will also be assigned to Lake Coeur d’Alene north, south, Hayden Lake while a roving team will handle the western lakes and Bayview.
Miller said most of the seasonal marine deputies range in age from mid-20s to 30s. They come from different backgrounds. One worked in the jail. Another was in the military. One worked on a train.
“They are more limited in the law enforcement aspect of it,” Miller said.
Education and safety of staff and the public are priorities, hence, the training before heading out on the water on their own, which begins this week.
They will come across folks who are drinking, as it is legal in Idaho to consume alcohol aboard boats, even for the operator.
“It’s not unlawful,” Miller said.
But on the water, people need to be aware “a lot of things can change if they drink. The sun takes a toll, they likely won’t drink much water, won’t eat much and get bounced around more," Miller said.
“They can come under the influence a little bit easier,” he said.
Deputies can stop boats for many reasons. When they pull alongside a vessel, they’ll watch for glassy eyes and listen for slurred speech from a boat operator and decide if they should be given a sobriety test, which on a boat is done sitting down.
Idaho had 50 boating accidents and eight boating fatalities in 2019, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security's recreational boating statistics.
But Miller said they are hoping for calm waters this summer.
"We want people to have fun and enjoy themselves, and we want them to be safe," he said.