ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB) — There are 90 miles of coastline in Erie County and 17 members of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit are in charge of making sure people are safe on those waters.
Deputies Michael Okal and Tim Coulombe took News 4’s Kelsey Anderson out on the water to explain some safety tips, updated rules in 2022 and more.
The deputies said the water near the Peace Bridge is some of the most dangerous they patrol. It’s where the lake and river come together and Deputy Coulombe said the current goes from almost nothing on the lake to about 17 miles per hour on the river.
“Our boat is 700 horsepower, and in this current, it takes right around half throttle just to keep us in one place,” he said. “We’ve had unfortunately several drownings in that area over the last few years in that area. People that have gone in just to get driftwood and they end up drowning in there.”
They said if you’re headed out on the water, it’s important to make sure your marine radio is working and your cell phone is fully charged. If someone calls them for help and is hurt, their marine unit boat is equipped with almost everything an ambulance has. Many of the deputies in the marine unit are also trained EMTs.
“We have med bag on there (the boat), a backboard, oxygen, and an AED,” Deputy Coulombe said.
There’s also sonar onboard, which they’ve had to use for missing people in the water before.
They remind boaters, most boats must have a life vest for every person on board, a throwable floation device, three flares that aren’t expired, an anchor line and a working horn.
And with the passage of Brianna’s Law in NYS, everyone born on or after January 1, 1988 now needs a boating safety certificate to operate a boat or jet ski. Come 2025, everyone, no matter your age, will need to have one. There’s a course you must take in order to get that certification.
If you choose to kayak or paddleboard instead, deputies warn that they’ve seen a lot of close calls between those vessels and big boats.
“So you might think you have the right away because you’re a smaller vessel, but you don’t have the right away when the vessel can’t stop in time,” Deputy Coulombe said.