As West Virginia Division of Natural Resources police officers, Capt. David Trader and Sgt. James Crawley know before they ever step out the door to go to work they'll have their hands full that day.
Before they can ever get onto a boat to patrol part of their 101 miles of waterway on the Ohio River there's paperwork that has to be done as well as hunting and fishing licenses, littering complaints and other police work.
Just because they're law enforcement officers for the Division of Natural Resources doesn't excuse Trader and Crawley from typical criminal cases, as sometimes they'll be called on to assist in burglaries, assaults and the like.
West Virginia DNR officers will patrol river during holiday
"We have to deal with everything from I-79 in Glenville and then down to Parkersburg," Trader explained, giving a brief outline of the area covered by his district. They frequently patrol the Ohio River between Marietta and Williamstown and other local stretches of the river.
After they get their paperwork done, officers will often head to the water, where they search for boaters under the influence of alcohol, check for life jackets and in general make certain the river is a safe place to be.
With four boats and 15 officers in District 11, which covers parts of 10 counties, natural resource law enforcement officers vary their patrol times. Each boat requires at least two officers to run, so no one ever works alone.
CONOR MORRIS Special to The Times
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police Officer Sgt. James Crawley secures the canopy on one of the division’s boats
"The reality of it is, you don't know when you're going to see us out here," Trader said, as he piloted one of the Division of Natural Resources' boats down the Ohio River one week ago.
On the river, patrols focus on boater safety, and use their time on the water as much for education as enforcement.
Pulling alongside a bass boat where two men were fishing by the bridge between Belpre and Parkersburg, Trader and Crawley called out to check fishing licenses, life jackets and then the fire extinguisher.
Water safety issues and alcohol
A boat operator will become impaired more quickly than a driver.
Penalties for Boating Under the Influence can include fines, revocation of operator privileges and jail terms.
Alcohol is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities.
Anyone under the age of 12 must wear a life jacket if the boat is underway.
Boats must have enough life jackets for every person on board.
Source: U.S. Coast Guard.
As the men chatted with Crawley for a few minutes, they wondered why they were asked to shake the extinguisher to see if there was liquid in it.
The reason, Crawley explained, is that fire extinguishers on boats are typically a Type B extinguisher, which uses a powder substance to put out flames. Over time, particularly in bass boats and jet skis, it can compact and become unusable.
"That powder that's in there, it'll become chalk again," Crawley said.
Indicating their understanding, the men went back to fishing, and Trader and Crawley continued their path down the river toward Blennerhassett Island.
Going on plane, or raising the bow of the boat so that it no longer pushes through the water, Trader said he recommends boaters place their fire extinguishers parallel to the water rather than up and down, so that they'll automatically be shaken during the boat trip.
By shaking the fire extinguisher, it keeps the foam from compressing, he explained.
Continuing down the river, Trader pointed to a large log, mostly submerged beneath the water.
"At night you really need to slow down because you can't see these things," he said.
Similar to a log submerged in the water, swimmers are also hard to spot for a boater as often times only their head and shoulders are visible, Trader said.
While they check anglers for fishing licenses and the number of life jackets on a vessel, watercraft officers also have to assure those operating boaters aren't impaired.
Spotting boaters under the influence of alcohol isn't nearly as easy as catching drivers, so law enforcement has to be particularly alert, Crawley said.
"With vehicles you have the ability to see a guy swerving, not using a turn signal to get a stop," he said.
Penalties for Boating Under the Influence, or BUI, are similar to OVI infractions with 24 hours in jail the immediate result, Crawley said.
There are also enhanced penalties, similar to the roadway, Crawley said. The only real difference is that a BUI conviction doesn't affect someone's driver's license.
Alcohol is particularly bad for boaters, as one alcoholic drink on the water is the equivalent of about three on land, in terms of the impairment effect, law enforcement says.
That's because the marine environment, including motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray, are stressors that will cause fatigue and impact coordination, judgment and reaction time more quickly.
Natural Resources Police Officers don't deal strictly with BUI, as they also see the OVI arrests from time to time as well.
Crawley recalled once working 20 hours in a 24-hour period as he went from a OVI stop onto the boat for patrol, ending with a BUI.
Cruising past a barge going down river, Trader called the large craft the "silent killer" as they're one of the biggest threats to recreational boaters at night.
Barges, which can be several hundred feet long, do not produce a lot of sound as the tugboat pushing them through the water can be a substantial distance from the front of the craft.
At night or in the fog, they can be hard to see as well as nearly impossible to hear coming, Trader said.
"We always preach giving them the right of way," he said.
Turning around to head back up river to Belpre, Trader saw a boat filled with people. Looking at Crawley, Trader called for a quick count to make certain the boat wasn't overloaded, and that everyone appeared to have life jackets.
Determining the boat was in compliance, the officers headed toward the dock without making a stop.
"For everything that we're out here checking, there's a bigger reason for it," Trader said. "We're just out here trying to maintain that sense of safety on the water."
Arriving back at the dock, officers had to close the front window and secure the cover of the boat.
They also had to make certain the boat was ready for the next trip, checking the fuel, lights and oil.
"We've got to prep this boat for the next run," Trader said.
Climbing out of the boat, Trader and Crawley headed back to the office where they had to file reports on their actions that day, before heading home.