Herb Angell likes to chat with as many boaters as possible as he patrols the Missouri River.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's boating law administrator will pull up alongside boats drifting down the river and ask the boaters a few basic questions in between making wisecracks and joking around.
“Do you have life jackets for everybody in the boat?” Angell asked boaters Sunday afternoon.
“Have you checked on your fire extinguisher in the last year?”
“Do you have a horn or whistle?”
“How many beers have you had today?”
The last question is an important one, as Game and Parks personnel diligently look for intoxicated boaters the weekend before the Fourth of July holiday as part of Operation Dry Water, a national campaign that involves boating law administrators from every state.
Officials used the weekend as an opportunity to educate the public about the dangers of boating under the influence.
The legal limit for boating is a blood alcohol content of .08, the same limit for driving a car. The maximum penalty for boating under the influence in Nebraska is a $1,000 fine, six months in jail and losing boating privileges for six months.
About 17 percent of fatal boating accidents involve alcohol, according to a U.S. Coast Guard study. In Nebraska's eight boating fatalities last year, three involved alcohol, Angell said.
Choppy waves and rocking boats make it difficult to conduct a field sobriety test in the section of the Missouri River that Angell regularly patrols, 90 miles of water from Blair, Neb., to Plattsmouth, Neb. So Angell often will conduct field sobriety tests that a boat operator can take sitting down, or use a Breathalyzer.
If somebody is operating a boat under the influence of alcohol, he'll often write up a ticket and ask a sober person to be responsible for operating the boat for the rest of a group's outing. If an intoxicated boater isn't cooperating, Angell will make an arrest and take the suspect into local law enforcement's custody.
On Sunday, boaters stopped by Angell were cooperative during his checks.
Angell made sure Doug Nauman had life jackets for himself and his four passengers, and made sure he was sober.
When Angell asked him to honk the horn on his boat, it didn't work. But Nauman had an airhorn to use as a substitute and said he would have to have the horn on his boat checked out.
“I'm not out here to be a jerk,” Angell said after the stop. “I just want to make sure people are safe and remember to check things. Now that guy knows about his problem and can go get it fixed.”
When Angell pulled up to Jeff and Jen Dent and their two children, he made small talk about the temperate weather and asked about how many times the family had been out so far this year.
“Three times so far,” Jen Dent said.
As Angell left, he asked for the couple's address so he could mail Breanna, 6, and Tyler, 4, T-shirts because they were wearing their life jackets.
Life jacket education is one thing Angell cares most about.
When he talks to boaters, he wants to make sure that every one of them is wearing a life jacket, and if a child under age 13 isn't, he wants him or her to put one on. If boaters aren't properly equipped, Angell doesn't hesitate to pull out a ticket.
Last year five of Nebraska's eight boating deaths could have been prevented with life jackets, Angell said.
“It's just so simple to put it on,” he said. “I've heard every excuse, like 'It's itchy' or 'It's hot and uncomfortable' or 'It will ruin my tan.'
“Well, when you're in the funeral home, people won't be admiring your tan.”