Michigan has approximately 1 million registered boaters. The Marine Division patrols Lake St. Clair, which has been called the busiest freshwater lake in the nation. Lake St. Clair covers approximately 85 square miles with 30.5 miles of shoreline connecting to 57 miles of rivers and streams along with approximately 1 mile of border with Canada. There are 26 marinas and 10 access sites that are all available for the public to access Lake St. Clair in Macomb County.
The Sheriff’s Marine Division is mandated by state and federal legislation to provide a search and recovery team to recover drowning victims from any body of water in Macomb County. The Marine Division enforces and investigates all violations of marine and criminal state laws that occur on the lake (Coast Guard and Border Patrol can only enforce federal laws). In the past the Sheriff’s Marine Division has handled a variety of incidents with over 1000 personal contacts from boat stops, assisting disabled boaters, rescuing animals in the water to medical emergencies, fires and criminal activity. We are also mandated by state law to inspect all liveries that rent vessels to the public which consists of over 100 boats. The tax payers of Macomb County contribute 65 cents per year, per resident for its operation.
The Sheriff Marine Division is the only government agency in Macomb County that is capable of fighting fires on the water. We have extinguished numerous boat fires in canals, on the lake and have assisted Fire Departments with waterfront structure fires such as the Harbor Club North apartment fire in Harrison Twp. There have been several incidents on the water where medical care has to be provided and the sick and injured have to be transported to shore to waiting EMS personnel. There are also incidents of such magnitude that Sheriff Patrol boats need to transport EMS personnel to the scene of the incident to give advanced medical treatment and triage such as the power boat that collided with a barge in May of 2008 where 3 people lost there lives and two were seriously injured.
State law requires that Sheriff Departments provide a comprehensive boating safety program that also includes instruction to youthful boat operators. Macomb County Sheriff Marine Division personnel teach the Michigan Boating Basics course through the Macomb County Community Education programs. The Marine Division instructs more people than any other agency in the state by providing weekend and evening classes for all Macomb County residents as well as going into a majority of the counties Schools and instructing seventh graders the basics of boating. Last year, deputies instructed over 5,900 students. The dedication of the deputies in this program is due to belief that this program has saved lives and has prevented injuries to those using the waterways of Macomb County. 75% of all boating accidents are the result of operator error due to operators being unaware of the “Rules of the Road” or their responsibilities as a boat operator. By making people aware of the rules and laws on the water, required safety equipment and basic rescue techniques, tragic incidents that have occurred in the past can be prevented.
Everyone operating a vessel should consider taking a safe boating class for their own sake as well as that of their family and friends. Hopefully by working together this will enable us to fulfill our mission and provide a safe environment for all to enjoy.