Memorial Day weekend launched the Yates County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol Unit on Keuka, Seneca, and Canandaigua Lakes, promoting recreational safety and protecting those using our Finger Lakes waterways. 

Sheriff Ron Spike said, “YCSO got involved with a lake patrol in 1960 using a ‘Penn Yan’ hometown-made, wooden patrol boat on weekends, and today the patrol boats are Boston Whalers provided us from the N.Y.S. Parks & Recreation agency at no cost to the county where they also provide 50% reimbursement for expenses.” 

Yates County has 65 miles of lake shorelines with the three lakes. Keuka Lake is challenging to patrol for its unique “Y” shape makes it like two lakes. 

The Marine Patrol takes a zero tolerance stand in three areas: 

1) Noncompliance in wearing Personal Flotation Devices or PFDs (especially children under age 12) 

2) Operating a vessel while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs

3) Reckless operation of a boat or PWC endangering others or property. 

The patrol continuously reminds boaters that both Keuka and Canandaigua Lakes have special speed regulations of no more than 5 mph within 200 feet of shore, or moorings where most lakes in the state, including Seneca, is 5 mph within 100 feet. Keuka and Canandaigua also have max speeds of 45 mph days and 25 mph at night. The Keuka Lake Association is promoting the “5.200” program as a speed reminder this season. 

The Sheriff’s patrol works closely with other county marine patrol partners such as Steuben, Seneca, Schuyler, and Ontario Counties. The patrol answered 300 complaints, did 2,000 inspections, issued 53 citations, 92 warnings, made two BWI arrests, and assisted 31 stranded boaters on the lakes in 2019. 

“The Sheriff’s Office takes its public safety mission very seriously, and the marked patrol boat is a public reminder of safety, and that navigation laws are important” said Sheriff Spike. “We have often scheduled the patrol to be out at 4am when getting complaints of boats speeding down the lake at dawn causing safety and unreasonable noise environments.”  Boating accident statistics have also shown that accidents can happen anytime, but most occur on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and so that is a time period that we have addressed with patrol vessel on the lake and even officers patrolling on PWC’s. Marine patrol officers answer 911 calls, citizen complaints, investigate in-water, or waterside criminal acts, boating accidents, and do vessel safety equipment inspections at launch sites, and inspections on the water by displaying their emergency blue lights to cause the stop. They also provide boater education classroom instruction for the NYS boating licensing requirement laws. The do inspections for the Sheriff before any approval of a special permit or regatta event, and then patrol regattas and other on waterway events. They may make arrests, and sometimes issue citations, but always have lots of interaction with the recreational boaters through issuing warnings or counseling in an effort to promote safety education for everyone. 

Often times the Sheriff’s patrol vessel is the “tow truck” on the lake, and can be seen towing stranded boaters to shore. Additionally they may be the first to arrive when a boater, angler, skier, or tuber have been injured. Deputies and Marine Patrol Officers are trained first responders and patrol boats are equipped with AED’s, for lifesaving, and have transported the injured to a nearby on shore ambulance. In addition, officers carry Narcan in the event of an overdose from opioids. They often assist for many other emergencies including search and rescue, or assist adjacent county Sheriff’s or other underwater dive teams in search and recovery operations such as we had on Seneca Lake in April this year with the canoe mishap tragedy where Marine Patrol officer rescued a boater suffering from hypothermia and did lake search for missing man and supported the NYSP URT recovery efforts. Another important area the unit gets involved in on behalf of the state is approval, and agreeing to the issuance of special permits for buoys or regatta events. 

Many natural events such as flooding debris run off into lakes and rivers can cause special needs for our marine patrols such as marking hazards to navigation, and “reasonable” towing stumps, trees, and other floating hazards off the waterways. These are special circumstances, and for many in water hazards because of natural flooding no one takes responsibility for removal and Sheriffs via salvage laws and other means attempt to make the waterway a safe place when it is within reasonable means to do so. 

The Sheriff exercises authority under the General Municipal law to regulate public traffic on the lake in special emergencies, and do not make such declarations of reduced speed or prohibited lake travel frivolously.  

A contemporary concern is for the prevention of invasive species into our lakes and waterways such as non-native plants and animals that degrade fishing and boating and may negatively affect tourism. Marine patrol officers work with area associations and volunteers to educate boaters before and after boating to clean, drain, and dry their boats and motors, especially removing all visible plants etc. Preserving our natural resources, especially water will secure our future for recreation, tourism, and their economic effect on our lake community.

The Sheriff’s encourages owners of lakeside property to properly post the house address number where first responders can see it not only from the road but on their docks as well. This helps find a location by our first responders. Sheriff Spike states, “Please call 911 with any emergency, or the need of police fire or EMS services. We use the Nixle.com service for community notifications via text or email. We also have a text tip system that lets you anonymously notify us of crime, etc. 847411 using keyword YATES. Additionally the agency has an APP available for free download. The Sheriff thanks his dedicated Marine Patrol Officer seasonal staff and wishes all lake recreational users a safe time, and stay healthy in this unusual pandemic 2020 year.