Waters patrolled to keep boaters safe on holiday weekend - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Waters patrolled to keep boaters safe on holiday weekend

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LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) -

With two drownings already this Memorial Day weekend, the Department of Natural Resources was making sure boaters had the things they needed before they hit the water for a little fun. Including life jackets, a horn or whistle and a fire extinguisher.

"You want to check your fire extinguisher," said SSGT. Lynwood Kearse with the DNR.  "Make sure you have the proper sound producing device.  Be aware if you're going to operate a boat, do not consume alcohol."

The same warnings go for those using the Midlands rivers to cool off.

"The currents are swift" Kearse said. "We've had a lot of huge afternoon storms here lately so in pretty quick notice you can have the river come up, one a minute, be two feet and the next minute be seven feet."

"A lot of times those PFD's will float away and they're struggling for breath, they're missing the very things that could have helped them stay safe and prevent a tragedy," said Karen Kustafik with Palmetto Paddlers.

She often runs across those in need of help.

"We all have stories of assisting someone who was sputtering, short of breath, pulling them to the side, getting their boats and their gear and pulling them off to the shore and making sure they're okay before we move on," she said.

She says no one should get in the river without a float plan.

"Let somebody in your family or your friends know, 'Hey I'm putting in on the Saluda about noon today if you don't hear from me by 5:00, you know that I was planning to take off at Gervais Street I should be somewhere between here and there.'"

The same goes for the lake.

Going into Monday DNR had cited as many as 10 boaters for boating under the influence. They expected those number to grow throughout the day.

WIS reporter Chad Mills rode along with officers Sunday afternoon.

The first stop was to correct a young passenger who DNR says was sitting dangerously on the bow of the boat.

"If you fall off the front of that boat directly, well, you can't stop fast enough before that prop and we don't want people to fall off and get hurt," said Lt. Ken Simmons.

As Simmons and his partner wrote warnings on this stop, other officers at another part of Lake Murray responded to someone who did fall from a boat and got cut on the foot.

"A lot of times, they do end up being fatal," said Simmons.

As a D-N-R plane flew overhead, Simmons and his partner headed to Sandy Beach in Lexington County.

"Being Memorial Day weekend, we have approximately 15 to 20 DNR officers out here on Lake Murray with the four counties that encompass Lake Murray, as well as some other DNR officers from other counties that don't have a lot of water," said Simmons.

Buck Sergeant Chip Allen from Allendale County and Simmons kept their eyes peeled for drunk boaters.

"Unfortunately, we'll deal with a lot of people who have the mentality of they think it's okay to be on the water and operate a boat while impaired, and one of the questions that we make ask them:  Would you drive your car right now? They'll just immediately go, 'Oh! No! No! No! No! That's why I'm out here,'" said Simmons.

Just in this short trip alone, officers were searching for a boater driving erratically, possibly drunk. But other checks were simpler and rooted in keeping boaters safe, such as registration checks, horn checks, and checks to make sure each boater had a life jacket.

"You never know when something bad is going to happen," said Simmons. "We got a call today that you heard of a boat sinking and taking on water. The first thing they did was put their life jackets on. Fortunately for them, they made it back."

In addition to D-N-R, Richland and Lexington Counties also have boats and officers on the water.

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