Sheriff’s Marine Division patrols Sylvan Lake through 2015 season

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 5, 2014

 The Oakland County Marine Division will be patrolling Sylvan Lake through the 2015 boating season. The direction of travel on lakes is counterclockwise. Those traveling the opposite direction may be stopped by the marine division.

The Oakland County Marine Division will be patrolling Sylvan Lake through the 2015 boating season. The direction of travel on lakes is counterclockwise. Those traveling the opposite direction may be stopped by the marine division.

Photo by Donna Agusti

SYLVAN LAKE — Prior to a fatal boating accident that took place on Sylvan Lake last July, the Sylvan Lake City Council had discussed contracting with the Oakland County Marine Division to patrol Sylvan Lake, according to John Martin, city manager.

Eleven-year-old Alexander Mansour and 6-year-old Gabrielle Mansour were tragically killed after their raft, which their father was reportedly towing behind a Jet Ski, was struck by a boat last summer. Adriana Mansour, then 10, was critically injured at the time. Because of this accident, Martin said the City Council was “forced … to move quicker” in approving the patrolling contract. In August, the Sylvan Lake City Council and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners approved Sylvan Lake patrol through 2015.

The services will be paid for out of the general budget, and Martin said the city has set aside funds in the 2014-15 budget, which starts July 1. The city has contracted about 192 hours with the Marine Division, but the number of hours could change depending on the weather or if the city is in need of extra patrol. The cost of the service is $31.68 per hour for a marine deputy with a boat.

According to Sgt. Michael Suarez, of the Oakland County Marine Division, officers will primarily patrol on the weekends, but hours will vary.

“I leave some of the discretion up to the officers patrolling,” Suarez said, referring to how long officers may stay on a lake. “Right now, we always have one officer per boat, but currently, I have officers in training, so there may be two on a boat during the training phase.”

The Oakland County Marine Division contracts with 14 communities in the county to patrol local lakes, including Sylvan Lake, Orchard Lake and Pine Lake.

During Memorial Day weekend, Suarez said, patrol officers issued 32 warnings, conducted 30 safety inspections and wrote two tickets over the course of three days on Sylvan Lake.

“That’s pretty busy for them,” he said.

Deputy Jim Frye has been with the Marine Division for 23 years and said he looks for violations such as people operating in a reckless manner, overcrowded boats, registration numbers that don’t contrast with the color of the boat, and expired state stickers.

“We can’t just stop them for no reason. … If I see something unusual, like someone traveling in the opposite direction — clockwise instead of counterclockwise — I’ll stop them and talk to them. Then I’ll check all their equipment,” Frye said.

Boats must be equipped with a fire extinguisher and personal flotation devices for every person on board. Boats over 16 feet long are required to have a boat throw cushion, Frye explained.

“I think our mere presence out here makes people think twice about being irrational,” Frye said. “Most of the job is public relations. … We let (people) know what they did wrong and bring them up to speed on what the laws are so hopefully they won’t do it again.”

The most common violation is people defying the 100-foot rule, which requires vessels or a person being towed to remain 100 feet away from a shoreline, any anchored vessel, a dock, or raft or any marked swimming area or person in the water.

“If I’m driving too close and I create a wake, and it bangs a pontoon boat against the dock and causes damage, I’m responsible for that damage,” Frye explained.

In addition to the 100-foot rule, there are the 150-foot and the 200-foot rules. If a personal watercraft, like a Jet Ski, is following behind a boat, it must remain at least 150 feet behind the vessel. The problem with the rule is that one person’s perception of 150 feet could be different than someone else’s, Suarez said.

“You have to pay just as much attention as driving a car, because an accident out here can happen in a flash,” Frye said.

The 200-foot rule requires vessels to remain at least 200 feet away from a diver-down flag. Scuba divers and snorkelers must stay within 100 feet of the vertical position of the flag, Frye said.

Occasionally, officers may come across drivers operating under the influence, and having a blood alcohol content of 0.10 or higher is illegal when operating watercraft. If officers feel alcohol is involved when they stop someone for erratic driving, a field sobriety test will be administered. 

People who fail three or four of the field sobriety tests are then escorted ashore to meet a member of the Alcohol Enforcement Team for a Breathalyzer test, Frye said.

“People are out here to have fun. … They think we’re out here just to harass them, and that’s not true. Our presence makes a big difference when it comes to heavy activity on the lakes,” Frye said.

As of now, Sylvan Lake City Council is looking to contract for the next “few years,” Martin said, but they are hoping for help from the neighboring communities.

“The city of Sylvan Lake isn’t the only city on Sylvan (Lake). With that being said, I understand some of these communities have multiple lakes, and the budget constraints are equal to ours, and putting someone on every lake is difficult,” Martin said.