Lt. Gary Wiegand of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office shows off an ideal life jacket for use in open water. All boats must have a life jacket for each person on board.

Lt. Gary Wiegand of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office shows off an ideal life jacket for use in open water. All boats must have a life jacket for each person on board.

Photo by Dean Vaglia

Marine Division promotes safe boating

By: Dean Vaglia | C&G Newspapers | Published May 31, 2024


MACOMB COUNTY — Safety never gets a day off.

As Memorial Day kicks off the traditional summer season, Lake St. Clair is expected to be packed with boaters until the trees are ochre and bare. But the influx of boaters means there is more danger on the lake, whether from improper equipment or unsafe boating practices.

On May 23, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham joined Lt. Gary Wiegand and Sgt. Jamie Bagos at the Marine Division headquarters in Harrison Township to highlight ways boaters can stay safe and remain in good legal standing while on the water.

Boater safety certificates are issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and are required for anyone looking to pilot motorized vehicles on the water. Boat operators must have a certificate if they were born after July 1, 1996, and personal watercraft operators must have a certificate if they were born after Dec. 31, 1978.

Driving a boat while intoxicated — whether through alcohol, marijuana or any other Schedule I controlled substance — is enough to net up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Penalties are increased if someone is injured or killed.

“We know that our boaters will drink alcohol while they’re out there,” Wickersham said. “If you’re going to go out and spend a day on the lake consuming alcohol, especially if you’re the owner or operator of the vessel, you have to remember it’s your responsibility to get those individuals that are on your vessel and yourself back safely, and you’re also responsible for the other boating population that’s out on the water. If you’re going to drink, drink responsibly. If you think you’re going to drink a little too much, make sure that there’s someone else on that boat that can operate it properly and isn’t intoxicated.”

Personal watercraft can be on the water from 8 a.m. until sundown, the latter defined by the National Weather Service’s sundown time, while larger boats can remain active with proper illumination.

One item all boats must have is enough life jackets, properly rated by the U.S. Coast Guard, for everyone on board, even if not worn at all times. Type I and Type II life jackets provide the necessary buoyancy for open water and can be bought in adult and child sizes.

“If we pull a boat over and you don’t have enough lifejackets on board the boat, depending on other infractions or circumstances it could be as little as a verbal warning from the deputy and asking the boater to turn around and go to shore until they have the proper number of lifejackets, or it could be as simple as our Marine Division deputies giving you a lifejacket to use for the day and asking you to return it at the end of the day,” Wiegand said. “In some circumstances, though, it would be a civil infraction citation that’s written and you would have to pay a fine.”

The Marine Division is able to provide some life jackets on a day-to-day basis, but stocks are limited.

Life preservers and other Type IV throwables are another requirement for boaters. These buoyant tools can be thrown to people in the water and allow them to be pulled back to safety.

Other safety items required or recommended for boaters includes an inspected and operational fire extinguisher, signaling flares and some form of way to communicate back to shore. While many people on the water will have cellphones with them, they may not be the most reliable tool when calling for help.

“Out on Lake St. Clair there are spots where a cellphone will not work, but a cellphone or a ship-to-shore radio in an emergency is very helpful,” Wiegand said.

It may seem obvious, but dropping anchor is crucial in keeping serious accidents from becoming fatal ones.

“You want to secure your vessel so you’re not drifting into other boats,” Wiegand said. “It comes into play when you have people in the water … Over the years we have had fatal boating accidents where people jump off of their boat to swim (and) they don’t realize how fast that boat is drifting away from them. Anchoring your boat properly and safely is extremely important.”

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office provides boater safety classes at its Marine Division headquarters in Harrison Township and its main office in Mount Clemens. Information about boater safety classes can be found at

The Marine Division will be at increased strength this summer with its four full-time officers, four more full-time summer deputies and 80 marine safety officers working 15 vessels, including seven patrol boats and four personal watercraft.

Among other events and regular boating patrols, the Marine Division will be active during the Selfridge Open House and air show on the weekend of June 8-9. Bays surrounding the base will provide a good view of the air show, though boaters should remember to drive slowly around anchored boats and mind the boundary zone along the base’s shore.