Title: Maritime mayhem: why boating and booze don't always mix.(Time Out)
Date: August 13, 1999 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, JoeByline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Staff Writer
How can Earl Zuelke put this nicely?
"I don't think we have the same level of alcohol craziness," he says.
Zuelke is Lt. Zuelke, commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department's Marine Unit, and he's comparing his jurisdiction - the Chicago River and Lake Michigan - to that of Lt. Bruce Scottberg.
Scottberg is Zuelke's counterpart for the Lake County Sheriff Department, whose marine patrolmen prowl the Fox River and Chain O'Lakes.
The numbers dramatically back up Zuelke's words.
The maritime equivalent of a DUI is an OUI (Operating Under the Influence), and the same legally drunk blood-alcohol level - 0.08 - applies to the road or the water.
Scottberg says since May 1, his patrolmen have issued 28 OUIs. Zuelke's men have written none since May 15.
Last year, Scottberg's officers made 54 OUI arrests, smashing the previous high of 22. Two of the 54 citations went to boaters on the Lake Michigan portion of Scottberg's beat, the rest to Chain O'Lakes users.
Zuelke and Scottberg agree on one theory for the gap in OUI busts: the awesome expanse of Lake Michigan.
"That is intimidating to a lot of people," Zuelke says.
Boaters and sailors, afraid of the dangers inherent in a large body of water - current, wind, waves - simply take fewer chances.
Zuelke cites the greater amount of waterfront bars and restaurants in the Chain O'Lakes, as well.
Perhaps the most important factor, says Scottberg, is his department's increased vigilance, mandated by Lake County Sheriff Gary Del Re after alcohol played a role in Lake County's only two 1998 boating fatalities.
"It's something that Sheriff Del Re and myself feel very strongly about," Scottberg says.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a boat operator with a .10 blood-alcohol level is 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with no alcohol in the blood.
Another USCG statistic: alcohol is a major factor in as many as 50 percent of all recreational boating deaths.
Scottberg's staff pilots two search-and-rescue boats on Lake Michigan, and four vessels on the Chain O'Lakes, two of which are diverted to inland lakes on the weekends.
This year a pilot program adds two Jet-Skis to Scottberg's force, which conforms to different rules of enforcement than do officers on the road.
Illinois law allows boat operators to drink while driving, so what marine police look for is not possession, but impairment.
They are free from a basic tenet of land-based officers of the law:
"I don't need probable cause," Scottberg says.
Whereas police on land need a reason to pull over a driver, water cops need only to proclaim a safety check.
Once police stop a boater for a safety check, the officer can determine the boater's demeanor. Zuelke says his staff has done 360 inspections thus far this boating season, and handed out 310 safety citations.
If an officer believes the boater is drunk, he or she conducts the same field sobriety tests done on land. If the field test is failed, the boater is charged with an OUI and asked to take a breath test.
The boater can refuse, but it will cost him or her boat privileges for two years. No arrest on the water affects a person's regular driving record.
Sometimes Scottberg's or Zuelke's men don't need to make a safety check to gauge a boater's impairment.
A controlled study done by the Boat Owners Association of the United States Foundation for Boating Safety in the summer of 1998 had boaters drive a series of courses after drinking an increasing amount of alcohol.
After three drinks, researchers noted that the most common mistakes were varied boat speed, wide turns, and overcompensation at the helm.
Scottberg says he and his officers are alarmed when boaters disobey no-wake zones by entering them at full throttle before cutting speed instead of gradually decreasing power, and break the after-sunset speed limit of 25 mph.
Both Zuelke and Scottberg insist most boaters, like drivers, are safe and sober. You only hear about the unsafe ones.
"We've got a small percentage of people who take the term 'recreational boating' a little too seriously," Zuelke says.
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COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
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