LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and of the peak busy season for Louisville Metro Police Department's River Unit.
River Unit officers patrol the Ohio River, conduct infrastructure checks of things like bridges, enforce boating laws and help with rescues and recoveries.
“To make sure people are safe and following the rules of the road on the boat," Sgt. Trever Blakely said.
Blakely said the River Unit is wrapping up maintenance and getting ready for the work ahead. On the busy, and sometimes unpredictable Ohio, they'll have a lot to do.
"The river is unlike any lake or anything like that, it's a moving body of water so people underestimate that," Officer Chad Crick said. "We pretty much do the same things patrol would do except we're on a boat."
Before taking a boat out on the water, Blakely said people need to conduct regular maintenance and check fuel levels.
"It's been up all winter, so they need to make sure the boat is efficient and running so they don't get out there and break down," he said.
Then, make sure any boat you ride on has the necessary supplies. That includes things like a noise-making device, proper registrations, fire extinguishers and a life jacket for everyone on board.
Children under 12-years old need to be wearing a life jacket while on the boat.
"With the warmer weather and more recreational boats coming on, we'll be out and about checking to make sure kids are wearing life jackets," Blakely said.
Officers will also be checking for illegal behavior on the water, like boating while drinking. In Kentucky, you can't drink while driving or on board.
“We’ll watch the boat if we suspect they may be drinking for three or four minutes to see if the operator is drinking before we stop them," Crick said. “Boating and drinking just don’t go together.”
The River Unit also helps with rescues and recoveries while people fall in.
"The likelihood of that happening in the next three or four months is very high," Crick said.
Blakely said just a few weeks ago, during Thunder over Louisville, a young girl fell in the water. Thankfully, he said, she was wearing a life jacket.
“The current is still traveling pretty fast and she was already getting away," he said. "The parents jump in after her, and they weren’t wearing life jackets, and now we’ve got three people to rescue instead of one.”
Crick also encourages boaters to take a safe boating course from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
If you get into trouble while on the water, call 911 to reach River Unit officers. Be sure to provide your location. If you don't know exactly where you are, provide landmarks.