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Five tickets, 323 warnings given to boaters violating stay-home order

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers issued five citations over the weekend to boaters in violation of the governor’s stay-home order, but none of them involved the use of a motorized boat, according to the department. 

DNR officers gave 323 verbal warnings to boaters for violations of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order, ranging from social distancing, operating a motorized boat or boating with people from outside an individual’s household, said department spokesman Ed Golder. 

Fishermen ply the Trenton Channel of the Detroit River in search of walleye near Trenton, Mich., Friday, April 3, 2020.

Of the five citations issued, three were issued for boating with people from more than one household and two for “failing to observe social distancing requirements.” All of the citations were issued in Region Two, which includes the bottom half of the lower peninsula.

In total, conservation officers gave a verbal warning or citation related to the executive order to 1 in 5 boaters they had contact with over the weekend. 

"Only when we encounter people who refuse to comply even after being warned do we issue citations,” said Golder. “Most people have been understanding, if sometimes disappointed, and have complied voluntarily.”

The maximum criminal penalty for the disregarding the order is $500 and/or 90 days in jail, he said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human services also can issue $1,000 civil fines for violations of the order but those can’t be levied under a DNR ticket. 

The citations and verbal warning issued do not include those from local law enforcement or Michigan State Police, Golder said. Michigan State Police issued no citations related to the motorized boating edict, said Lori Dougovito, a spokeswoman for the agency. 

Whitmer’s ban on motorized boating came under her second executive order expanded and tightened her stay-home order. It was a reversal of her stance a week prior, when her office said boating would be allowed in Michigan. 

While canoes, sailboats and kayaks are allowed under the order, jet skis, motorboats or other comparable watercraft are prohibited, Whitmer’s office clarified Friday. 

The Department of Natural Resources on Friday said the ban on motorized boats was an attempt to "reduce the movement of, and contact among, people" to slow the virus spread.

"The DNR has received many reports about heavy use of boat launches across the state and the subsequent congregation of people at these launches in violation of social distancing requirements, and in a manner that threatens public health," the DNR wrote Friday on its website.

"In addition, people who use motorized watercraft typically need to procure secondary services for their craft, such as parts and gasoline, that could unnecessarily increase contact with others and spread disease."

The order prompted disappointment among boaters and industry officials who argued the ban on motorized boating was an overreaction to reports of overcrowding.

“Those specific boat launches could have been closed and the individuals violating social distancing ticketed,” said Nicki Polan, executive director for the Michigan Boating Industry Association.

“Additionally, to ban registered boaters who pay registration fees which support the state’s launch ramps and not ban kayakers who pay nothing into the Michigan State Waterways Fund is salt on the wound," Polan continued in a statement. “Kayakers fuel their cars on their way to the launch ramp no different than trailer boaters.”

Paddlers and sailors must be “part of a single household,” according to the state, and any activities “must be done in a manner consistent with social distancing, and individuals should use only their own equipment to prevent the transmission of the virus through the touching of shared surfaces.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com