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Neighborhood on the water: Law enforcement stepping up boat patrol for summer

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YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - The summer season is upon us and with it comes an increase in activity on our waterways.

For that reason, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO), along with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, will be increasing patrols on the lakes and waterways throughout the summer months.

On a hot summer day in the Desert Southwest, the Colorado River is an oasis.

A community on the water.

It's cut in half by an imaginary line between Arizona and California.

A 10 to 13 mile stretch of the river is in concurrent jurisdiction between the Imperial County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Border Patrol, Arizona Game and Fish, and YCSO.

News 11 hopped on board with Sgt. Scott Bjornstad and Senior Deputy Matt Felix of the YCSO Boat Patrol, for a weekend ride along the Colorado River.

Sgt. Bjornstad said, “A day for us would usually start out right around this time. A lot of people will dock their boats here to come out on the river for the day.”

First stop, Fisher’s Landing.

“Sometimes the AZ Game and Fish officers will come out and check for fishing licenses but these guys are always out here to have a good time and we don’t have any trouble with them," Bjornstad said.

North of Fisher’s Landing are the islands.

“This is Horseshoe Island. On our big holiday weekends in the summer you’ll see the islands further south of here just packed with people.”

Bjornstad added, “We’re looking for reckless operation of watercraft.”

There’s no speed limit on the water, so much of what boat patrol officers looking for are medical emergencies and safety violations.

Bjornstad said, “We’re looking for safety violations like not having flotation devices for kids 12 and under, fire extinguishers, people that are riding on the bow when the boats not designed for that.”

There’s also a violation of being within 60-feet of one another when passing.

Just as on land, you can also get cited for operating under the influence (OUI).

“The legal blood alcohol concentration level is still 0.08 for just your average regular boat. If it's a commercial-style boat it’s the same as a commercial vehicle on the road its a 0.04. The field sobriety testing for an oui is a little bit different than you would see on the road. “

While statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard and Bureau of Transportation show Arizona has the fifth most boating accidents in the country, YCSO says it only responds to an average of three to five accidents a year.

Majority caused by not looking out for sandbars, boats, and jet skis.

Bjornstad explained, “One of the main causes of boat crashes that we have out here every year is people don’t realize that the sand bar may be only a foot or so underneath the surface of the water and will hit the sandbar and almost immediately come to a stop. It's kind of the equivalent of driving a car on the roadway and crashing into a wall.”

Boater, Jake Sieck, comes to the Martinez Lake area of the Colorado River almost every weekend from San Diego to hang out on his boat, the Budweiser.

Sieck said, “I’ve never seen a crash before, but I’ve helped somebody out before that was in distress and needed a tow. I've helped people who’s boat was sinking. [It's] river love, you got to help them out.”

For the most part, it’s all river love on the Colorado River.

Bjornstad said, “The vast majority of people out here are very nice people who follow the rules, very easy to get along with. As you can almost everybody waves to us.”

Sgt. Bjorstand calls his job the best definition of community policing.

“It''s kind of like a neighborhood on water. Being able to come out here park our boats. Come out and just talk with people. We’ll have lunch with them usually, and just let them know we’re here.”

Aziza Shuler

Aziza Shuler joined KYMA in March 2019 wearing many hats including the newest anchor and producer for FOX 9, as well as a multi-media journalist for KYMA.

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