It was an opportunity to observe first-hand the effectiveness of good public relations during a ride-along with Missouri Highway Patrol Water Patrol Division Corporal Dean Bartlett over the busy Memorial Day weekend as he patrolled his assigned area near Bagnell Dam.

It was an opportunity to observe first-hand the effectiveness of good public relations during a ride-along with Missouri Highway Patrol Water Patrol Division Corporal Dean Bartlett over the busy Memorial Day weekend as he patrolled his assigned area near Bagnell Dam.

Bartlett has spent his adult life in law enforcement, first with the U.S. Air Force and later with the Missouri Water Patrol. Although Bartlett liked the Air Force travel opportunities, when asked, he says the best thing about his current job is his “office” at the helm of a Donzi Center Console 290 with twin 225HP outboards. Nearly everyone who visits with Bartlett in his “office” may be subject to a citation for an alleged infraction of Missouri boating laws, but the Patrol has a warning system and individual officers have discretion about issuing citations or warnings. The patrol seems to follow the old adage that honey catches more flies than vinegar.

By state statute, Water Patrol Division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, enforces those laws controlling the safe and orderly operation of motorized watercraft, boats, and personal watercraft (PWC) on lakes and rivers of Missouri. The boating laws of Missouri, found at Title XIX, Chapter 306 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, carry fines from $100 and up for equipment or vessel marking infractions. Fines increase based upon the severity of the infraction up to Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) which carries a penalty of up to four (4) years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines. Attorney fees can be thousands of dollars in addition to State-imposed penalties.

The work of the water patrol officers is much more than cruising the water and issuing citations.The Patrol works to increase compliance with applicable law, encourage safe operation of all vessels on the lakes, and make sure everyone gets home safely at the end of the day. Proactive safety programs conducted separately and cooperatively by the Water Patrol, the United States Coast Guard, and the Lake of the Ozarks Water Safety Council serve to disseminate information about registration requirements, safety equipment requirements, safe and legal navigation requirements, and safe operation of a boat as well as passenger conduct on a vessel while underway.

Even more effective with the most immediate results is face-to-face contact between the captain of a boat and a water patrol division marine officer. Bartlett sets out on every shift to minimize the annoyances and dangers for boaters whether they are caused by the boater’s actions or events over which the boat operator has no control. Bartlett, and the entire water patrol, priority is to reduce dangerous conditions on the water, and there are many things that can go wrong for Lake of the Ozarks boaters enjoying the water and sunshine.

Contacting boaters and their families on the water, explaining the rationale for boating safety rules and laws, conducting safety inspections, and assisting boaters who may experience mechanical failure are all opportunities to make a lasting, positive impression on boaters--even when a citation must be issued. Doing it all with professionalism makes the experience less intimidating for the boater.

A young lady on the main channel operating a personal watercraft that lacked proper registration decals on the hull was appreciative of the detailed explanation about the documentation deficiency and said the vessel belonged to her uncle. She worried that he would receive a citation, but was assured he could simply acquire the proper decals before leaving the dock again. However, she did not have the required boater safety certification for those born after January 1, 1984 and did receive a citation for that violation.

The Water Patrol, for all its discretionary authority, cannot release an unlicensed boater to continue boating so the water patrol must tow the vessel and carry the boater back to the dock if they do not have a passenger capable of taking the helm. While the operator appreciated the professionalism and of the marine officer , she was dreading the moment she was brought to her uncle’s dock with the whole family stood waiting.

Another PWC operator received an explanation about proper decal display and thanked the officer. Several contacts were made with boats pulling skiers while displaying the orange flag. Bartlett patiently explained in each instance that the flag is only to be displayed if the skier is down in the water in order to warn other boat traffic in the area of an almost invisible person in the water. If boaters see the flag up during actual towing of the skier, everyone becomes complacent about the hazardous condition depicted by the orange flag. The explanations included the possible fine of over $100 for improper display of the flag.

The main channel can be rough water to navigate safely, even for experienced boaters. Bartlett and other marine officers constantly watch for hidden hazards such as logs and other debris in the water. When Bartlett found large logs cut from a downed tree, he identified the source as a pile of firewood-sized cut logs next to the sea wall at a home on the channel. Stopping at the dock he found a neighbor who could call the homeowner and have the pile moved where rains could not wash them over the edge of the sea wall.

Among all the duties of a marine officer, rewarding kids for wearing their life jackets ranks very high. A large family in a bow-rider enjoying a day on the water were “caught wearing their life jackets” by Bartlett. The kids and their parents were thrilled with free t-shirts from the officer.

In a very quiet cove, nine young swimmers frolicked on their swim mats and stand up paddleboards next to a dock with adults lounging on a tri-toon. A perfect summer afternoon activity on a lake. The trooper caught them all wearing their life jackets and handed out almost a box of t-shirts that they proudly held up for the camera. Then just as quickly the kids dove back into their games.

The fun of passing out t-shirts to kids who are being safe while having a good time fits into the Water Patrol’s program of spreading safety and good will, but the daily mission of a marine officer on Lake of the Ozark includes some serious tasks. Although boating while intoxicated comes to mind first, followed quickly by responding to calls for help, Bartlett also concentrates on small things that can ruin a day on the water.

Officers enforce boating laws by checking vessel registration documents, hull stickers, outboard motor stickers, and for the presence of required safety equipment. They also assess drivers for safe and proper operation of the vessel. If they stop an operator officers will also check for a Boating Safety Identification Card and Photo ID, both required for those born after 1983 in order to operate a powered vessel upon Missouri waters. Bartlett says most of the items he deals with have fines around $100, and if he does issue a citation, the boater has the option of simply paying the fine or can appear on the court date to plead not guilty at which time the court will set the next date and time of appearance.

The ultimate goal of the Water Patrol is that everyone enjoy the lake and arrive home safely at the end of their day on the water.