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Deputy Amy Roussell and Sgt. Larry Rich on new Patrol Boat at Bass Lake - photo by Gina Clugston

Sheriff’s Deputies Launch New Patrol Boat At Bass Lake

BASS LAKE — The Madera County Sheriff’s Office has been gearing up and training to ensure everyone has a safe summer season on Bass Lake.

Sergeant Larry Rich and Deputy Amy Roussell were out on the lake today in the Sheriff’s new 2017 patrol boat, built by Rogue Jet Boatworks.

The 300 hp, 23′ boat has a center console — allowing deputies access to entire perimeter while interacting with boaters — along with a self-bailing deck and side-scan sonar for underwater locating ability.

The $85,000 boat was paid for in part by boater registration fees, says Sgt. Rich, and replaces one of the two 12-year-old patrol craft currently in use at Bass Lake, each with over 4,700 hours logged.

One of the aging boats will be sold at auction in the coming months, and the second will remain part of the fleet that also includes two Yamaha FX Waverunners.

Along with new equipment comes new training for Deputy Roussell and Reserve Deputy Ed Greene, who attended 160 hours of training in three separate courses — Boating Under the Influence, Basic Maritime and Boating Operation, and Boating Accident Investigation. The courses are provided free of charge through the California Division of Boating and Waterways, and are all POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) certified.

Though slots for only two deputies from Madera County were available for this year’s training, Roussell and Greene have brought what they learned back to share with other Bass Lake patrol deputies.

Dep. Roussell says the Sheriff’s Office is working toward several goals to enhance public safety at the lake this summer, including a “Give a vest, take a vest” set-up on Sheriff’s Island.

“We have the safety vests in various sizes from youth to adult,” says Roussell. “They have been provided to our department by Boating and Waterways, and now we need to build a wood structure to hold them. If you can’t afford to buy a vest or forgot it, here’s one for your child. Please don’t go without one. If you need it, just take it.”

Another long-term goal for the S.O. is to establish non-lifeguard stations around the lake that would include life vests, throw rings and a catch pole. Anyone needing immediate assistance due to a boating emergency would be able to access life-saving equipment without waiting for help to arrive. At this point, the stations are a goal, but the expense will likely push this out into the future until funding sources can be found.

Sgt. Rich has been working on the lake for 28 years. In fact, Larry was the first civilian hired to work on the Island doing inspections, and became a patrol deputy in 1988. He says his focus is on education and public outreach.

“We’re not just ‘boat cops,’ we want to make boating and recreating as safe as possible for everyone,” says Rich. “The goal is to reach out and educate, not just police. We really do care that everyone is having a good time here.”

As part of that public outreach, the Sheriff’s Office will be participating for the first time in Operation Dry Water, a national awareness and enforcement campaign running from June 30 to July 2, focused on reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities and fostering a stronger, more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water.

“Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths,” notes the website for Operation Dry Water, which is coordinated by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard as well as local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“Persons found to be boating under the influence can expect to incur severe penalties. If a boat operator is BUI, the voyage may be terminated, the boat may be impounded and the operator may be arrested. Penalties vary by state but can include fines, jail, loss of boating privileges, even loss of driving privileges.”

Sheriff’s deputies will be meeting and greeting the public during a “Donut with a Deputy” event at Bass Lake on Wednesday, June 28. Along with lots of good information about boating safety and how to best enjoy your day on the lake, there will be a focus for the upcoming weekend about boating under the influence.

Over the past months, residents have seen their local deputies at community events, demonstrating live-saving equipment and talking to the public. Deputies have also been reaching out to kids — bringing in a puppet show from Boating and Waterways to five local schools, making sure kids learn early about water safety.

A couple things of note that have changed of late at the lake —

As of 2016, boaters no longer need to go to Sheriff’s Island to get their stickers. Miller’s Landing, The Forks Resort and Bass Lake Boat Rentals are currently selling registration stickers, making things easier for everyone. Sgt. Rich says reviews from the public in the first year of implementing this change was thumbs-up — “People love it!”

The registration sticker fees vary based on type of vessel and are available for purchase now:

  • Vessels up to 35 horsepower are $32
  • 36-250 horsepower are $50
  • 251 horsepower or higher are $63
  • Personal Water Craft are $50

Registration stickers are required year-round for any vessels operated on Bass Lake. Be aware that the Sheriff’s patrol boat may still pull up and inspect your vessel at any time, making sure you have the required life jackets, a throw cushion with 16′ rope, a sounding device and a fire extinguisher on board.

Another change is that the Sheriff’s patrol boat will no longer be towing disabled boats. Due to liability issues, Sgt. Rich says the S.O. boats will only tow in the event of an emergency, such a medical crisis or imminent danger. Anyone in need of a tow will need to contact one of the marinas for assistance.

And finally, operators of motorized vessels on California waterways will soon be required to obtain a Boater Card through a phased-in process over the next seven years.

California Boat Operators Will Be Required To Obtain Boater Card


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