Law enforcement officers at Clover Island for marine safety class

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldApril 11, 2013 

Law enforcement officers from 12 different agencies across the state took to the waters around Clover Island Thursday to test their knowledge of boating safety regulations.

The mock scenarios, which included boaters driving recklessly and under the influence, are part of a five-day course to become certified in marine law enforcement by the Washington State Parks Department.

The parks department has been offering the class in the Tri-Cities since 1991, in part, because of the flexibility the island and Clover Island Inn provides them to train.

"It's an ideal location and ideal conditions," class coordinator Mark Kenny said. "It works perfect. There's no other place in the state that offers this kind of facility with excellent weather conditions."

The students are all hoping to become certified to join the marine division of their respective departments, Kenny said. There is one deputy from the Benton County Sheriff's Office enrolled in the class.

Instructors spent a majority of the first two days of the course, which ends with a final written exam today, in the classroom teaching the students about boating laws before thrusting them into action with training exercises on the water.

Students learn how to inspect, tow and dock vessels, as well as how to operate boats, pull off high-speed maneuvers and rescue boaters.

Lt. Matt Stowers, an instructor and head of the marine division for the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office, said the members of his class have an average of four years of recreational boating experience, but limited time on the water in a law enforcement capacity.

"From a legal standpoint and a requirement standpoint (they) are all starting at zero," he said.

The parks department gets around $1.9 million from the U.S. Coast Guard each year. It uses that that money to make the class free to all of the 36 counties in the state it partners with, Kenny said.

"We pay for it with the same dollars that are given to us because we think that will be enticement for all agencies to get people trained," he said.

The parks department also provides around $1.1 million of that money in grants to law enforcement agencies, including the Benton County Sheriff's Office, Kenny said.

The main objective of the training is to cut back on the 32 recreational boating fatalities which happened in the state last year, Kenny said. In more than half of those deaths the victim was not wearing a life vest.

Nearly 90 percent of drownings in the state involve someone who is not wearing a life vest, Stowers said. One of the students' goals is to return to their departments and make contact with boaters to enforce boater laws in the hopes of reducing preventable deaths.

"Our goal is to stop fatalities," Stowers said. "Across the nation Washington ranks uncomfortably high as far as water-related fatalities go."

Kenny, who has been employed in recreational boating safety for almost 37 years, said the first step in reducing fatalities on the water is to hold people accountable to the rules and educate officers on how to spot violations.

The parks department will be back in the Tri-Cities on April 29 for another class.

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