A Day on the Water: Pennington County deputies on summer lake patrol in the Black Hills
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Lakes can be a great way for locals and visitors from out of town to escape the heat. And with the summer season winding down, people are squeezing in every last second of fun before heading back to the old grind.
However, safety is always a main concern. According to the CDC, there are an average of 11 drowning deaths every day in the United States. And, especially in light of last week’s drowning at Angostura, law enforcement is making sure people are following rules.
Deputies Thomas Mossman and Thadius Schmit had the honor of trading the indoor office for a much more exciting time outdoors.
Much like the UTV Patrol in the Black Hills, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office takes to places like Sheridan Lake to make sure people are recreating safely. Every weekend from May through September, deputies take to the water in a boat and monitor some of the local lakes.
“It is good to just go around from boat to boat and just say, ‘hey guys, do you have your flotation device, your fire extinguisher on board. Do you have a throwable?,'” Deputy Schmit said. “And all that stuff that gets the public thinking, ‘hey, there is a reason we have to have this stuff on here just in case something does happen.'”
According to state law, all watercraft must be equipped with a life jacket for everyone on board. They do not have to be worn at all times, but must be on-hand for people to access
However, not all life jackets are made the same, and Deputy Mossman recommends making sure they are Coast Guard-certified. Coast Guard certification is not a mandatory requirement, but can make a huge difference for people and families out on the water.
“The Coast Guard certification is, if a person is unconscious, the life jacket has to be able to keep an unconscious person up to a certain weight limit above water, and keep their head above water,” Deputy Mossman said. “And not let them sink below water to where that way they can breathe if they are knocked unconscious and not have to work to stay afloat.”
Most of the time, though, people on the water are grateful for the officers on duty and often thank them for their patrol. As officers wave from their watercraft as a friendly sign of letting people know they are on-duty, people on the water return them and remembering to recreate safely.
“It is mostly just making sure people are safe, not going too fast in a no-wake zone,” Deputy Mossman said. “But we are just making sure everyone is having fun and being safe.”