Sheriff kicks off start to summer with plea for boating safety

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SYLVAN BEACH — Warm weather is upon us and summer is right around the corner, so Oneida County Sheriff Robert M. Maciol wants to remind everyone to have a safe and happy time when they visit Oneida Lake.

“It’s a great place to visit. There’s a lot of fun to be had here. But it’s going to require people to be kind to one another, to have some patience. To please follow the rules,” Maciol said outside the Sylvan Beach Amusement Park Tuesday morning.

Every Memorial Day, Maciol is joined by several law enforcement authorities and Sylvan Beach officials to wish everyone a joyful kick-off to the summer season, while also reminding them of safety requirements.

The Sheriff’s Office’s Marine Patrol has five boats and two personal watercraft. They patrol primarily Oneida Lake, especially during busy event weekends, along with Delta Lake, White Lake, Kayuta Lake, Otter Lake and Hinkley Reservoir.

The Marine Patrol has one assigned sergeant in charge of fleet management, and then will staff the patrol with deputies from other units or who are willing to work overtime, Maciol stated.

“The captain of the boat should always be aware of how many people are on the boat and how much safety equipment and personal flotation devices he has on the boat when he brings people out with him,” said Sgt. Scott Kahl, supervisor of the Marine Patrol.

The Sheriff’s Office said life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) are some of the most important articles on a boat. Maciol said that modern life jackets come in a variety of different designs and colors, so boaters should be able to find something to match their style.

In 2020, Maciol said that 75% of all boating deaths across the country were a result of drowning. He said seven out of eight drowning victims in a boating accident were not wearing a life jacket.

“It’s pretty clear that life jackets, personal flotation devices, save lives. That’s probably one of the most important messages that I have here today,” Maciol stated.

“Our goal here is to bring everybody together to prevent those fatalities from happening, and to ensure that everybody has an enjoyable summer. It’s a great body of water to boat on, it’s a great body of water to fish on.”

The Marine Patrol also watches for people boating while intoxicated, for which they have “zero tolerance,” the sheriff stated.

In recent years, there has been an increase need for boater safety certificates, according to state law. Maciol said that all people of every age will need to have a safety certificate by 2025. Depending on the year you were born, you may need to get one sooner, he noted.

Information on boater safety classes is available at the website for the state Department of Environment Conservation, at www.dec.ny.gov.

Sgt. Kahl said that one of the biggest concerns on the lake is when a boat is broken down or taking on water. He said, for the most part, that people on Oneida Lake are very good about staying in compliance with the law.

“When we watch a boat, we watch everything. We watch everything from the validation sticker on the side of the boat to the number of people on the boat to our experience of what that boat could hold, in regards to capacity. We’re looking for kids under 12 not wearing their life jackets,” Sgt. Kahl said.

Over the past year or two, Kahl noted that he has seen a “remarkable uptick” of children in compliance wearing life vests. He said parents have really started to follow that life jacket rule.

“We’re looking at the operator. What’s the operator look like? Does he look normal? Does he look like he understands what’s going on in the boat? Does he know what his surroundings are? Or is he just oblivious. We see that sometimes,” Kahl stated.

“For the part, Oneida Lake is a great lake. There are a lot of very seasoned mariners on this lake. We don’t really have a lot of problems like that on this lake, especially with the people who are here all the time.”

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