STANDISH — On Sebago Lake, not far from the Standish boat launch, Maine Game Warden Peter Herring’s patrol boat approached a boat full of people on Saturday afternoon.

Herring turned on his blue lights. Both boats slowed and drifted next to each other, idling and rocking in the choppy water.

The warden did an impromptu safety check. He was stopping boats as part of Operation Dry Water, a national campaign to discourage and remove boaters operating under the influence. The operation happens all season, but is a heightened patrol during the Fourth of July weekend, with the Maine Warden Service watching inland waters and the Maine Marine Patrol monitoring coastal waters.

National statistics show alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, and the July Fourth holiday weekend is a popular time for boating.

Greeting the boat he’s about to inspect, Herring starts with a friendly, “How are you doing?”

He spied the registration visible on the boat, as required.


“Can I see one, two, three, four, five adult usable life jackets?” Herring asked.

The adults held up their lifejackets. Children who were 12 and under wore lifejackets as regulations require. Lifejackets “need to be accessible” to everyone on the boat, Herring said. Accessible means easy to grab and put on if there’s an accident.

“I’m going to need to see a sound-making device and a fire extinguisher,” Herring said to the boat’s operator. The boater showed the safety devices that ensured he’s prepared for a mishap. Herring thanked and let them go, but not before he praised the kids for wearing lifejackets and warned the people in charge not to drive a boat under the influence.

A boater shows Maine Game Warden Peter Herring the adult life jackets on board during a safety check Saturday on Sebago Lake. Herring and multiple other law enforcement officials are patrolling Maine waters over the holiday weekend as a part of a national campaign, Operation Dry Water. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The spot check showed that the boat operator “was absolutely fine,” Herring said later. “He didn’t have any indications watching his body language or anything that he was impaired.”

Soon he stopped a man on a jet ski. Then more boat checks with a similar line of questions and inspections.

When Herring stops watercraft, how the boat operator acts and responds to safety questions “gives me an in to watch the operator as he’s fumbling around looking for things,” Herring said. If there are any indications of boaters under the influence, wardens conduct sobriety tests.


Statewide, the majority of Maine game wardens are working this weekend. During Saturday night there were seven OUI arrests on the water statewide by wardens, said Lt. Jason Luce, who heads up the southern division of the Maine Warden Service.

He hopes there’ll be no more, but expects there will be. A typical Fourth of July weekend results in 17 impaired boating arrests by the Maine Warden Service, Luce said.

Those arrests and the spot checks prevent tragedies by discouraging or removing impaired boaters, Luce said, saying there’s no room for error on the water. So far this year Maine has seen seven boating drownings. He doesn’t want more. As of Sunday morning, the warden service hadn’t had any water fatalities so far this weekend, Luce said, “thankfully knock on wood.”

Like other wardens, Herring will patrol all day and through the night this holiday weekend. He made no OUI arrests Saturday, but gave a warning to one boat operator who was close to being intoxicated. Another person took over the wheel.

When patrolling Saturday afternoon, Herring pointed to a beach crowded with 30 cabin boats. People were hanging out, having a good time listening to music by Alabama.

Most boaters are responsible, the warden said. But on the holiday weekend, there are many inexperienced people operating boats and celebrating. Herring worries about all those coolers with all those 12-packs being consumed all day, he said. Toward the evening someone who should not do so gets behind the wheel.

“That’s one of the reasons I come out early in the day,” Herring said, idling his patrol boat near the beach. “By flying the flag, I let them know I’m out here, I’m checking them. Maybe they’ll think twice about sitting on the beach, drinking that beer, thinking, ‘Maybe someone else ought to drive.'”

Wardens want people to have a good time, Herring said. “We want them to get on the water, have a great day, but to get off safely.”

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