From sailboats to motorboats and personal watercraft, Lake Norman is a playground for boaters of all ages. But boating safety is the key to a fun day out on the lake.
And that is what the Lake Enforcement Unit of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police department is all about. The unit was formed in 1981 and has grown each year.
Officer David Turner has been on the Lake Enforcement Unit since 1995. He accepted a position on Lake Norman that was part time in the summers for the first six years and continued working fulltime with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department. In 2001, he was offered a full-time position on the lake patrol.
The unit now has four full-time officers. In addition to Turner, Officers D.W. Lambert, E.R Echerd and T.S Howard serve on the unit. They also have two part-time officers.
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If you have been on the lake, you have probably seen the Lake Patrol boat. If they need to approach a boat, Turner or one of the other officers will conduct a safety inspection. Each boat is required to have a current registration, a life jacket in the proper size for everyone on board, a horn and a working fire extinguisher. Each boat also needs a personal flotation device that can be thrown to a person overboard.
One of the biggest issues on the lake, said Turner, is boating while intoxicated. There are boaters each year who consume too much alcohol and then operate their vessel. Just like driving a car while impaired, this is a dangerous situation for both the people on the boat and nearby boaters. BWI can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and a court appearance.
Turner wants boaters to have fun and enjoy the great waters of Lake Norman. Boater education will ensure that everyone can do that safely. A recently passed law requires that anyone under 26 must take a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators approved boater education course and pass an exam. A warning will be given this year to anyone without a certificate and starting in May 2011, a citation will be issued. This is not, however, the only reason to take the course, explained Turner. He encourages all boaters, even those over 26, to take the course. As an added bonus, insurance companies often give reduced rates to boaters who take a course.
When a boater is new on Lake Norman, they should also educate themselves on shoal markers. These markers indicate shallow areas. "Don't go between the shoal marker and shoreline," said Turner, 42. Getting stuck on a shoal can be dangerous, especially if it is hit at a high speed. A passionate boater himself, Turner spent several years water skiing on Lake Wylie.
One facet of the Lake Enforcement Unit that many people are unaware of is their role as the lead agency if there is a problem at the McGuire Nuclear facility. It is their job to implement the emergency plan and evacuate the lake should a problem ever arise. Each officer has special training in the procedure.
The Lake Enforcement Unit operates out of Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius.