Saturday, August 05, 2006

Missouri Water Patrol Keeping Our Rivers & Lakes Safe

By Lynndi Lockenour

With the first official days of summer beginning only a few weeks ago, boating season is in full swing. This means longer, more stressful, hours for Missouri State Water Patrol Officer and PIO Lou Amighetti Jr. Paralleling the duties of a state police officer, Amighetti said his job is only different because it happens in the water. “We perform routine stops and check registrations just like officers would for vehicles on the road,” he said.

Boating season normally begins as warm weather arrives, usually in late April or early May, depending on the year, and continues through Labor Day weekend when students head back to school. The Missouri State Water Patrol is responsible for patrolling the major waterways throughout the state. This includes 272,770 acres of lakes, with 5,500 miles of shoreline, 519 miles of the Mississippi River, 533 miles of the Missouri River and the tributaries along these waterways.

Amighetti said the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, with over 40 miles of uninhibited boating area, attract thousands of boats every summer. “Some people are scared off by the thought of a current,” he said. “But once you get use to it, I think it’s better than boating on lakes.” Though he prefers the river, Amighetti said the current produced by the river is sometimes a problem for boaters who have never experienced it.

This year, Amighetti estimates that the overall number of boaters is down due to rising gas prices. “By the time you put $80 of gasoline in your vehicle to tow a boat to the ramp, then $80 to tow it back, and then the gas you use on the water,” he said. “You are talking some serious money just for fuel.” More boaters tend to drive to their destinations and sit, Amighetti said, rather than driving up and down the river.

To save fuel and spend less, Amighetti recommends boaters slow down and pack less into their boats. “Be prepared before you get here,” he said. “And only bring what you know you will really use.”

Even if boaters are prepared, Amighetti said there are still dangers present, of which everyone should be aware. One problem is the power lines that cross the Missouri/Illinois state boarder, and thus the Mississippi River. Helicopters and airplanes have already hit the lines, but Amighetti adds that boaters are also at danger.

“Flying Kite” flotation devices are becoming more popular. The device is pulled behind a boat, similar to the way a tube and skies are. The kite differs because once a certain point of speed is reached, the kite lifts off the water and the person aboard is launched into the air. This becomes dangerous because the kites can fly up to 30 feet in the air, dangerously close to these power lines. Though Amighetti doesn’t condone the use of the kites at all, he says that users should be extremely careful not to fly around the power lines.

The Mississippi River isn’t just patrolled by the Missouri State Water Patrol. The Illinois Conservation Police also patrols the area. Boaters should know that the rules for boating in Illinois aren’t exactly the same as those in Missouri. Both state’s rules are expected to be followed while boating on the river. “It doesn’t matter if you live in the other state from the police who pulls you over, it is still considered a violation,” Amighetti warns. “For this reason it is best to know the rules for both states.”

The two most cited violations, according to Amighetti, are lack of registration and improper display of ski flags. “People get excited about getting out on the water and forget the rules,” he said. “We are here to prevent that.”

For the most part, Amighetti said he and the other officers are well received by boaters. “The only reason I see for why people wouldn’t want us out here is if they are doing something wrong,” he said. Amighetti loves his job and says people often pull up to the boat just to ask questions. “We are here to help,” he said. “It’s a very thankless job.”

For more information about the Missouri Water Patrol or the rules and regulations, please contact the office in Jefferson City at 573-751-3333 or visit their Website at