Northwest NEWS

August 13, 2001


Coast Guard highly visible at Seafair

by Lisa Allen
   Valley View Editor
   ON LAKE WASHINGTON - The five young people on board the small boat at the Seafair hydro races were clearly out to have a good time, just like everyone else on the water. And, they were drinking, just like almost everyone else.
   But what alerted the Coast Guard's attention was the driver, who was holding an open bottle of beer, and seemed oblivious to the call by the Coast Guard crewmember to pull alongside.
   "It (the drinking) is so blatant," said Coast Guardsman Jeff Thomason, PSI (Port Security, 1st Class). "But boating under the influence is illegal. Now, he's trying to make himself invisible. He thinks if he ignores us, we'll just go away."
   But the Coast Guard crew was relentless. Soon, the small craft was tied alongside the 41-foot utility boat, and the drinking driver brought on board.
   The 22-year-old didn't get a ticket, but he did get a lecture before being released.
   "I made sure he wasn't intoxicated," Thomason said.
   "Wehave the power to write federal violation tickets for drinking. But mainly we try to educate the public and let them know what the regulations are."
   The 13th Coast Guard District is responsible for patrolling the area's waters, saving hundreds of lives and assisting countless boaters each year. During Seafair, regular and reserve members of the Coast Guard man boats from cutters to Zodiac size to keep watch over a very crowded Lake Washington.
   They are assisted by members of the King County Sheriff, Bainbridge Island and Mercer Island police, the U.S. Army, Coast Guard Auxiliary and Seattle Police Department.
   The Coast Guardsmen were admittedly nervous because of last year's accident during the Seafair race. A young man had dived into the lake, hit his head on a log and drowned before anyone could reach him.
   "We're particularly watchful," Thomason said. "There are so many boats, and we have new safety regulations this year to enforce."
   Thomason said that among the new rules is one that prevents more than six boats from being rafted together, which meant the the crew spent much of their time attempting to break apart rafts of more than six boats.
   "Some of the boaters don't understand that if a person falls in between the boats that are tied together, there is no way to get them out," he said. "And people get difficult when they have been drinking."
   But Thomason said most people try to be safe and follow the regulations.
   "Kids 12 and under on the deck of a boat 19 feet and under must wear life jackets and they are very good about it," he said. "We have been handing out Dairy Queen coupons to those we see wearing their life jackets."
   The only mishap during this year's Seafair weekend was a woman on a small boat who became overcome by gas fumes.
   Due to the rapid response by nearby safety vessels, the woman was quickly transported to a hospital where she recovered.