As the temperatures rise, more boats flock to the water at the Barnett Reservoir, and one important safety aspect boaters always need to keep in mind is operating under the influence of alcohol.
Reservoir Chief of Police Trevell Dixon said the reservoir has never had a large amount of boaters drinking and driving, but it is still something to be aware of when boat traffic picks up starting Memorial Day Weekend.
“Every blue moon, we may encounter someone who is under the influence while operating a boat but, for the most part, everyone is pretty responsible when it comes down to it,” Dixon said. “The major thing is just people being aware of their surroundings and being aware of what they are doing, especially being around other boaters.”
Last year, Dixon said there was only one BUI and they had 29 DUIs.
Dixon said they’ll encounter these impaired boaters, who usually range anywhere between 21 and 45 years old, at various spots around the reservoir, including the cove off the Natchez Trace, north of Highway 43 towards Flag Island, and “nine times out of ten” upriver and below river on both sides.
“We get people from everywhere so it really isn’t just one particular area,” Dixon said. “It is spread out across the whole 33,000 acres.”
Dixon said his department combats drinking while operating a boat by doing checks to make sure people have everything they need on their boats. While doing so, they will speak to the operator and try to gauge whether or not they have been drinking and if they’ve had too much.
“Then they decide if they need to take the investigation further from there,” Dixon said. “What we do is try to increase our presence and make sure that we are readily available and seen.”
The department has about five or six boats available to them to patrol the reservoir, Dixon said. The Ridgeland Police Department (RPD) does not currently have a patrol boat although they had acquired a patrol boat around 1996 and started a Marine Patrol Division after an annexation brought a portion of the reservoir into the jurisdictional limits of the city.
“After several years, the cost to maintain a part time marine division did not make fiscal sense,” Chief John Neal said. “The Reservoir Police Department (RPD) had the resources and manpower to maintain a presence on the water for violations of the law, as well as holding jurisdictional powers on the water for enforcement.”
Though RPD does not patrol the water anymore, they still have main roads in Ridgeland that lead from the reservoir.
“The warmer months during the summer, as well as the number of holidays during the summer months, are a reason for heightened awareness for drinking and driving,” Neal said. “Ridgeland Police Officers receive training in impaired driving and are trained to recognize indicators of impaired driving. Ridgeland has a limited number of access roads into our city from the reservoir and officers keep a strong presence along these routes for impairment.”
Neal said oftentimes a person will consume alcohol during the day and doesn’t realize the effects to their cognitive skills and their judgment may be skewed. However, there are key actions people can do themselves to make sure they stay safe while on and around the reservoir this summer.
“Being a responsible boater, a responsible drinker and maintaining situational awareness of your surroundings will prevent most tragic incidents from happening,” Neal said. “Responsibility in actions will keep us all safe. If people who use the reservoir facilities and spend time at the establishments around this recreational area act responsibly and limit their alcohol intake, everyone will have an enjoyable summer. The use of the reservoir, for whatever your purpose, if done in a responsible manner will keep tragic events from happening.”
Dixon said there are several key things people can do to stay safe while on the water.
“The major things are making sure they are aware of their consumption of alcohol, making sure they have all their equipment on their boats, and making sure that the kids are wearing their lifejacket and they are wearing their lifejacket,” Dixon said. “It is pretty much just making sure everything is operating in a safe manner. Try to not get too close to people because it is not like a car. You can’t just stop at the drop of a hat. It takes a minute to stop a boat. Anything that you can do to avoid a collision or avoid an accident, we really hope everybody goes out there and does that.”
Dixon said if anyone has concerns or questions about what they need on their boat or want to make sure everything is adequately working, they can come by his office to get it checked out and can call anytime at 601-992-9894.