It’s the perfect recipe for danger — lots of sunshine, crowded lakes and Memorial Day weekend. As Arizonans flock to the lakes, hauling boats along the highways, state officials are increasing manpower on land and water to gear up for the busy and dangerous summer months.
Arizona Department of Public Safety officers will be placed every 10 miles on Interstate 10 for the holiday weekend, said officer Frank Valenzuela. Twice as many people will patrol the lakes, said Maricopa County sheriff’s Sgt. Joel Floyd. And with wildfire danger high, deputies will cite anyone burning a campfire.
On the lakes, patrol officers will be on the lookout for drunken boaters, people ignoring traffic patterns, and any other lake violations.
"People should understand that if you wouldn’t sit at a barbecue and have six beers before driving home, then you don’t do that in your boat, either," said Maricopa County sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Anglin.
Last year, 438 people were arrested statewide for operating boats while drunk, according to a 2004 report by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The highest cause of accidents on lakes is not alcohol, though — it’s operator inexperience. And it’s not kids who cause the majority of collisions — it’s adults, according to the report. Seventeen percent of last year’s accidents were caused by inexperienced boaters. Twenty-five percent of accidents involved boaters age 31-40.
Boaters who don’t pay attention are the second highest cause of lake accidents, with careless and reckless operation being third highest.
"Forty states have some kind of boater education requirements," said Kevin Bergersen, boating law administrator for the Game and Fish Department. "Arizona is not one of them."
Since the law doesn’t require a boating license, two things can prevent many deaths and injuries this season, Bergersen said: Wearing a life jacket and taking a boater education course.
Although people over the age of 12 aren’t required to wear a life jacket, boaters are required to have a life jacket for every person on board.
"Saying you’ll wear your life jacket if there’s an accident is like saying you will put your seat belt on if you see a car about to hit you," Bergersen said. "It’s too late."
Last year, 11 people died on Arizona lakes, which is about two times higher than previous years. One-third of those deaths were alcohol-related and other deaths were because of poor decisions, Bergersen said.
The most accidents occurred on the Colorado River, Lake Havasu and Lake Powell.
Last year over the Memorial Day weekend, 14 people died on highways, Valenzuela said. Only a handful of those crashes were alcohol-related.
DUI task forces will patrol the East Valley this weekend, and DUI checkpoints will be used in other parts of the state, Valenzuela said. Task forces target the most dangerous drivers, while checkpoints target anyone who drinks and drives.
"The best piece of advice I could give people planning a trip is to plan ahead," Valenzuela said. "Plan for traffic so you aren’t rushing, plan for breakdowns with plenty of water and plan for fatigue by getting enough sleep."
Bergersen added: "Remember that boats don’t have brakes, so people need to protect themselves by getting educated."
The Game and Fish Department and the Coast Guard Auxiliary offer boater education classes. For information on lake safety, call (602) 789-3235.
• Take a boater education class.
• Always wear a life jacket.
• Have one driver and at least one observer per boat.
• Follow lake traffic patterns.
• Do not consume alcohol while operating a boat.
• Have one fire extinguisher on board for every 12 feet of boat.
• Use lights if operating boats after sunset.
• Do not water ski after the designated sunset time.
• Do not ride personal watercraft within 60 feet of any other craft on the water.
• Bring lots of water and stay hydrated.
• Never hang onto the back of the diving platform while the boat engine is running.
• Plan for traffic and delays.
• Drive the speed limit.
• Bring plenty of water in case of a breakdown.
• Have a designated driver if you consume alcohol.
• Get enough sleep.
• Check tire pressure.
• Check fluid levels.
• Always wear a seat belt.