BONNERS FERRY — Boundary County Sheriff Deputy Caleb Watts, a graduate of the North Idaho Marine Law Enforcement Academy in Coeur d’Alene, takes to the waters again as part of the Boundary County Sheriff’s Marine Program, as spring yawns its way slowly into summer.
The cooler weather, rain and storms, has deterred some boaters, leaving the Kootenai River strangely light on boat traffic, but it promises to be in full swing shortly, and the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office wants the community to be as safe as possible. Much of this is achieved through one on one contact with the boaters and recreating people on the river, and with Watts in the Sheriff’s Boat.
Joining Watts this year is Boundary County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Scott Brown. Brown recently took over Sheriff’s Labor Program, as well as working one day a week at the jail. He is well qualified to join Watts on the river, coming from a military background as well as being a scuba diving instructor.
“It’s great,” said Brown. “I enjoy giving back to the community; being part of the community.”
As part of the kickoff of the boating season, the Marine Program participated in The 2018 Operation Dry Water (ODW), a heightened awareness and enforcement weekend that took place nationwide on June 29 through July 1.
The mission of the ODW campaign is to, “... reduce the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities through increased recreational boater awareness and by fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol use on the water.”
Watts and Brown took to the water on Friday, putting in at Copeland, despite thunderstorms that rolled through the county, with one extremely close lightning strike. The resulting rain from the storms deterred most boaters.
On Saturday, they started the day by making contact with a boat with five adults, a year-old child, and a six-month-old baby aboard.
“The six-month-old did not have a lifejacket on, nor did it have one in the boat, so they were asked to leave the water until they got a lifejacket for the baby,” said Watts, stressing the importance for having life jackets for everyone involved, especially a baby which cannot swim.
Up river from Bonners Ferry, they found a boat adrift in a strong current, using long poles to keep from hitting anything.
“We made contact with a vessel that had no power, had a broken motor, and they were floating downstream and wanted our help,” said Watts. “We towed them back to the dock.”
Part of the importance of the Marine Program is to foster education. Watts and Brown are helping to do this by making contact with the people recreating on the water, whether they are in boats, on jet skis, kayaks, or more. They check to make sure that all of the proper safety gear is in place.
One example is a boat they came across up river. Brown made contact with them, asking to see life jackets, fire extinguisher, and noise making device. For the last, the man on the boat honked the horn. With a smile and a wave, the Sheriff’s boat was on its way to continue patrolling the river.
“The river can be a dangerous place,” said Brown. “Even if you have a lot of experience you can still get into trouble. We just stress safety gear and having a float plan. That is huge. If we don’t know where you are at, we can’t come find you.”