Marine police officer readies for crowded lake
by James Phillips
May 25, 2012 | 3761 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama Marine Police Officer John Williams performs a boat check on Smith Lake Wednesday morning. The boaters, Sawyer Mullen and Catie Elliott of Jasper, were in compliance of all Alabama boating laws. Photo by: James Phillips
Alabama Marine Police Officer John Williams performs a boat check on Smith Lake Wednesday morning. The boaters, Sawyer Mullen and Catie Elliott of Jasper, were in compliance of all Alabama boating laws. Photo by: James Phillips
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Area residents planning to celebrate Memorial Day by spending time on Lewis Smith Lake this weekend may encounter Officer John Williams of the Alabama Marine Police.

Williams said Wednesday that he will be on the lake extra hours throughout the weekend, keeping a watchful eye on area boaters.

“Memorial Day weekend is one of the most crowded times for our lake,” Williams said. “We see the most lake traffic on Memorial Day and the 4th of July. We urge area boaters to follow laws and be safe, not only this weekend, but any time they are on the water.”

Despite Smith Lake being located inside three dry counties, Williams said alcohol is a constant problem.

“We see it all the time,” he said. “Alcohol is prohibited on Smith Lake. It can’t be carried inside a boat, but we see a lot of inebriated people on the water.”

Williams said anyone caught drinking alcohol on Smith Lake will have their alcohol confiscated, and their blood alcohol level will be tested. If boaters have a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher, Williams said they will be charged with boating under the influence (BUI).

Although alcohol can be a problem, Williams said more common safety issues on the water are boaters not having the proper number of life jackets and careless or reckless driving.

Alabama law requires a proper fitting life jacket on board, and children under 8 are required to wear life jackets at all times. Anyone water skiing, wake boarding or tubing must always wear a life jacket.

“We recommend that adults wear their life jackets to be role models for the children,” Williams said. “They really don’t do a lot of good if they’re not on you.”

Williams said boaters should always stay on the righthand side of the water and should be on sharp lookout for other boats and personal watercraft.

“It’s basically the same rules as driving a car,” he said. “We see a lot of people in violation of driving on the left side. That is usually the cause of most accidents we see.”

Another common problem encountered by Williams is boaters driving without their licenses. Anyone operating a boat should have a vessel license that is marked on their driver’s license, and it should be on the driver at all times.

“We have a lot of people who we stop, and they just don’t have their license with them,” Williams said. “They are required to operate a boat, and it is helpful for us during stops for people to have them ready. We like to know who we are dealing with, and we can do things a lot quicker if they have their license readily available.”

Williams said his job is to make sure lake visitors have fun but remain safe. He reported that Smith Lake only had one fatality last year and saw three deaths in 2010.

“Last year was one of our best years,” said Williams, who has patrolled Smith Lake for four years now. “Strict enforcement of the laws leads to lives being saved. People need to have a good time, but it is my job to be sure they stay above the water line.”