Pictured above, Deputy Andy Caruso (left) and Deputy Mike Williams of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department return from patrol with the Navigation Division to dock at the Long Point State Park station on Chautauqua Lake.
MAYVILLE, N.Y.—Deputies staffing the Navigation Division of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department are continuing their mission to keep local waters safe and secure as the Labor Day holiday approaches.
“Boaters of all types continue to enjoy the opportunities for recreation provided by Chautauqua Lake, Lake Erie, Findley Lake, Cassadaga Lake and Bear Lake—all of which are patrolled by Sheriff’s personnel,” said Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel.
Building on the work of past years, Navigation Division Deputies have stressed the goals of safe operation and proper equipment during the 2021 summer season. With residents and visitors taking to the water in increasing numbers over the last two summers, efforts have expanded to enforce safe boating on these valuable multiuse waterbodies.
“Because of COVID, last summer was huge with the amount of people on the water,” said Deputy Mike Williams. “This summer there is a slight downtick, but it’s a little higher than two years ago, because people are getting outside for recreation.”
Paddlecraft such as canoes and kayaks are also becoming more popular on local lakes in the wake of COVID-19, which has increased the importance of considerate use by both powered and non-powered boaters.
Williams is one of 14 total deputies staffing the Navigation Division, and divides his time between patrols on Chautauqua Lake, Cassadaga Lake, Findley Lake and Bear Lake. In addition to stressing their message of safe and lawful operation to the public, Deputies have remained committed to their additional roles on watercraft patrol. These include the investigation of crimes and accidents, search and rescue operations, support operations for local fire departments, and coordination with other law enforcement agencies.
“We get called a lot for disabled vessels and missing vessels,” said Deputy Andy Caruso. “A family member might call and say they never showed up where they were supposed to be when they said they were going to be there—they either broke down or they got lost. Once you get out there on the water, if you are not really familiar, it is easy to get lost out there.”
Safety concerns can also grow during periods of high traffic, such as holidays, or when weather conditions impair navigation. During a period of heavy rainfall in mid-July, Chautauqua Lake became littered with storm debris, some of which posed safety hazards. These types of situations mandate increased caution from boaters and an awareness of safe operating procedures.
“We haul debris in, sometimes you will see there are big logs or something,” said Caruso. “We’ll actually haul some larger pieces of debris in when we are out doing patrol work on the lake if we see something that is a hazard.”
Improving and maintaining the navigability of local waterbodies is a collaborative goal that involves cooperation between the Navigation Patrol, state agencies, and local organizations like the Chautauqua Lake Association (CLA).
“I brought in some 25 to 30 foot trees, and the CLA has been wonderful,” said Williams. “We’ll call them if we have something on board. They will meet us and take it from us, and we will notify them where there is something bigger or there is a problem.”
Recent changes in state law now require that all motor boat operators will be required to hold a boating safety certificate by 2025. Williams said he has witnessed an increase in proper life vest use and compliance over the past several years, another simple but important way to ensure safe boating activity in addition to education for boaters. In many cases, positive progress on safety is the result of proactive but cordial engagement with the public on specific issues. When interacting with a boater for the first time, Deputies may fill out a boarding report of state-mandated equipment. This is an inventory of essential safety items including fire extinguishers, an anchor, life vests, and a visual distress signal. While these items are often stowed away, out of sight and mind during normal operation, they can become essential in short order following an accident or unpredictable weather. A key role of Navigation Patrol officers is relaying the importance of having the proper equipment and safe boating techniques to residents and visitors through earnest day-to-day interactions that incentivize future compliance.
The work being done by Navigation Patrol Deputies around the County is made possible thanks to collaboration with a number of different partners.
When patrolling on Chautauqua Lake, Deputies are able to use their shoreline station and dock on the property of Long Point State Park, with the New York State Parks Department also providing navigational buoys and warning markers for local waterbodies.
“New York State does a great job of maintaining the buoys and markers, especially at night with the lights and everything,” said Caruso. “I work a lot of the night shifts and when you are out in the dark, you can see pretty well where you are going, as far as where the buoys and the markers are. They do a good job of marking things like channel inlets.”
Private businesses such as Paradise Bay Park in Findley Lake and ROCK of Western New York have also aided the Navigation Patrol on its mission in recent years by contributing a boat docking slip and a boat lift, respectively.