Motorboat sales skyrocketed during the pandemic because people wanted to get out of the house and distance themselves from others on the expansive waters of Lake Washington, according to Mercer Island Marine Patrol Sergeant Chad Schumacher.
As Washington prepares to fully open at the end of June, Schumacher expects boaters to be out in full force again this summer. Boating season revved up in early May, and depending on the weather, will last until late September or early October.
Schumacher and his fellow marine officers will be swamped in the upcoming months and they’ve got their boats at the ready. If a daily Mercer Island boating periodical existed, safety information would surely be splashed all over the front page.
“We try to encourage people that we always want you to come out tomorrow and the next day after that and enjoy it. So don’t do anything today that’s going to prevent you from doing it tomorrow,” said Schumacher, who has worked for the Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD) for 14 years — including 10 years as a Marine Patrol officer — and began his post as the Marine Patrol sergeant in March.
Schumacher enjoyed riding in his family’s boat when he was growing up and was attracted to the MIPD’s Marine Patrol unit when he joined the department. He and a marine assistant officer run the Marine Patrol unit year round and are joined by other officers when their daily or weekly assignments hit the schedule. Day and night, there’s always at least one Marine Patrol officer on duty.
Tons of training is required to become a Marine Patrol officer, including a state course, classes in marine firefighting and water rescue, boater under the influence detection and more. Schumacher has done search and rescue training through the US Coast Guard and the state, and also has a US Coast Guard captain’s license.
The Marine Patrol unit keeps busy in the winter as well, maintaining its three boats, buoys and navigational markers plus copious other tasks, including providing safety information to the public.
Their main bullet-point tips are encouraging people to wear life jackets; making sure the vessel operator is carrying their Washington State Boater Education Card and that the boat is equipped with fire extinguishers, flotation devices, horns and proper safety placards; and watching out for logs and debris in the water.
Schumacher said the majority of people are safe on the water, and through the Marine Patrol’s public education, they note, “Everyone out there on the water has the same goal — to enjoy nature, enjoy the water and everything.”
The Marine Patrol unit has responded to drownings, boats and jet skis colliding, propeller cuts, water skiers and wake boarders with broken legs, boat fires and house fires near the lake. The boats are equipped with fire pumps and the officers assist the fire department when incidents occur.
On Memorial Day, fuel leaked into the engine department of a boat, which caused a flash explosion on Lake Washington. Several occupants sustained minor injuries.
“We happened to be close by and responded. We were able to get all three people safely aboard our vessel and then my second boat that was on the water that day came down and towed the vessel to Coulon and we got it out of the water,” Schumacher said of Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton, where some boaters launch their vessels. “Luckily, everyone on board was wearing a life jacket at the time and no major injuries occurred.”
Other boaters enter the water out of the Mercer Island launch under the Interstate 90 bridge and the Newport launch in Bellevue.
With heaps of water to cover, Mercer Island’s unit contracts with the cities of Bellevue and Renton for water patrol and they’ve also responded to and assisted on incidents in Seattle’s Lake Union and further away in Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, where a plane crashed a few years ago. They’ve even worked with the Coast Guard at times.
“We all help each other out because not one agency out here can do it,” Schumacher said.