Could the recent spate of deaths on local waters in boating crashes have been avoided with more marine patrols?
Right now, only five Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officers are watching 105,000 acres of east-central Alabama lakes. It’s true reckless and irresponsible operation of all boats, especially at night, could not be stopped by double and triple that number of officers.
But more officers in more boats will give people a strong reason to slow down and perhaps not drink while at the helm. Capt. Gary Buchanan, the commander of the ALEA’s Marine Patrol, said early indications are alcohol was a factor in three recent crashes on Lake Martin, Lake Jordan and the Alabama River near Wetumpka that resulted in four deaths.
The state could also devise more stringent tests to get a vessel operator’s license, perhaps even including test drives on the water to assess skills in boat handling and navigation. Far too many people operating boats are not qualified to do so and are a menace to those who are.
The ALEA is prioritizing putting more state troopers on Alabama’s highways and it’s hard to argue against that logic. But there are 21 vacancies in the marine patrol division and they should be filled. There is no doubt more marine patrol officers and tougher standards to get a vessel operator’s license will save lives.