The Geist Boat Patrol Hits the Lake For Summer Safety

Photographer: Brian Brosmer

The sun is out, warmer weather has finally arrived and summer is here — it is officially boating season. For Geist and Fishers residents, summertime means loading up the boat and heading out to Geist Reservoir with friends and family for days of fun on the lake.

With so many boaters out on the reservoir, someone has to patrol the waters to keep the community safe — enter the Geist Boat Patrol.

For Fishers Police Officer Mike Janes, summer is the busiest time of the year. Lt. Janes heads up the Geist Boat Patrol during the late spring and summer months. The patrol hits the water primarily on the weekends starting Memorial Day through Labor Day, but it wasn’t always that way.

“Prior to Fishers annexing a lot of the homes around Geist, they annexed the land under the water, so de facto, the lake is our responsibility,” Lt. Janes says. “We would get complaints about excessive noise and other boating issues, but we didn’t have a boat to get out on the water at the time. So, we started looking at how to alleviate the issue. In 2011, we started doing some co-boat patrols using our Fishers Fire Department boat. In 2012, the Fall Creek Township purchased a new boat for Fishers co-branded as a public safety boat.”

What many people may not know is that the Boat Patrol unit is a dual response team made up of all Fishers Police and Firefighters — all of which serve on a voluntary, part-time basis.

“We usually have two officers out on the boat, and the fire department heads out occasionally as well,” Lt. Janes says. “Our officers are all trained to run the fire pump on the boat, too. Our goal has been to achieve voluntary compliance with the laws and ordinances of Fishers. We have done a good job of that. The primary reason we are out there is to make it a safe boating environment for everyone that lives or recreates on or near the water.”

The boating patrol heads out to the marina usually around early afternoon on the weekends for each shift, prepping the boat for the day and making sure all systems are operating properly. They are usually out there in the afternoon through the evening. The Geist Boat Patrol has several main areas out on the lake that they keep an eye on.

“We focus on the two main coves that people hang out in — Cambridge Cove, or many refer to it as Cocktail Cove,  and Family Cove,” Lt. Janes says. “We still spend time in the smaller areas, too. We stop and talk to people when we see them. Probably our biggest complaints are noise ordinance violations or no-wake zone violations where people are going faster than they should be in an idle zone.”

The Geist Boat Patrol has one, main boat that they use, and it’s got just about every feature and piece of technology that the FPD and FFD needs. Not to mention, you can’t miss it. The 27-foot Boston Whaler is quite an impressive sight to see out on the reservoir.

“One of the reasons that our boat is so big is because it is also used for dive operations,” Lt. Janes adds. “If we are in an urgent situation looking for someone that has just gone under the water, when we dive we send one diver at a time with two back up divers on the boat. It means a lot of equipment and people on the boat.

“The Fall Creek Township, when they purchased this boat for us, really provided us with great equipment. We have a flare unit on it as well, similar to what helicopter systems have, that picks up heat signatures of people and boats. The sonar unit also paints us a picture of the bottom of the lake to pinpoint where things are at.” 

It’s certainly not an episode of Baywatch, but the Geist Boat Patrol has handled some interesting situations over the years.

“We’ve had a few crashes over the last few years, but thankfully we’ve been fortunate in that category,” Lt. Janes says. “Typically those crashes involve people being impaired or not operating their boat in a safe manner. We strongly encourage people to take some type of boaters education class.

“Sometimes we get some crazy calls, though it has calmed down quite a bit in recent years. Still, every once in a while there is someone who wants to take off parts of their swimsuit, and we have to remind them that is not acceptable behavior. We had a guy one year that tried to choke a goose. He dove in the water after the goose and, of course, the goose didn’t take too kindly to that. Overall, we are pretty fortunate because the majority of people out on the lake are out there to enjoy themselves within reason.”

One of the frequent issues Lt. Janes says that the patrol sees is boaters, both drivers and passengers, not wearing some sort of flotation device. For those that aren’t the biggest fans of life jackets, he highly recommends it.

“We require our officers to wear a personal flotation device,” he says. “We have ones that automatically inflate if we go about 14 inches under water. We want to set a good example out on the lake, so we always have them on when we are operating the boat. The life preserver can truly save lives. Our diving team has not had to recover a drowning victim who was wearing a personal flotation device. You never know when or where you are going to be involved in a crash.”

Over the years, the Geist Boat Patrol has built up a solid rapport with the Geist community and those out on the lake. Lt. Janes says that relationship is an important piece of the job.

“We usually kick off the boating season by meeting with many homeowners in Cambridge, and we answer any questions they might have,” he says. “We want to foster those relationships with community members living along the water. There is always a boating safety day as well. We have developed really good relationships with the regulars out on the water, too. They see us and wave us over just to talk.”

For Lt. Janes, he has been a part of the Fishers Police Department since 2003. In total, he has been in law enforcement for 19 years now. 

The Geist Boat Patrol, he says, is one of his favorite parts of the job each year.

“I’ve always loved being out on the water,” Lt. Janes says. “Working with the FPD has given me a lot of neat opportunities to do that. Personally, I love the fact that I can get paid to go out on the water. Much of it is building relationships and getting to know those regulars out on the lake. It is similar to patrolling on the road in a police vehicle, but on the boat it seems like we are much more approachable because it is easy for someone to wave us over and ask us a question. Families sometimes wave us over with their younger kids wanting to say hi and get a photo with us. It’s fantastic.”

When you see the Geist Boat Patrol out on the lake this summer, be sure to thank them for keeping the waters safe.

Boater Safety 101 With Lt. Janes
  1. Always wear a PFD (personal floatation device).
  2. You must have one appropriately sized life vest for each person on your boat. If your boat is 16 feet or greater, you must also have a Type IV – throwable PFD. They must also be readily accessible.
  3. Operating a boat while intoxicated is never acceptable.
    Those doing so will be arrested and will have their vehicle driving privileges suspended.
  4. No wake zones or idle zones are defined as traveling the slowest possible speed, not to exceed 5 MPH, so as to maintain steerage and produce minimal wake.
  5. From sunset to sunrise you must have navigation lights on and the maximum speed is 10 MPH.
  6. When towing a person behind your boat or PWC, you must have an observer in addition to the boat operator.
  7.  You may not operate a watercraft in a dangerous manner. Operation must be reasonable and prudent at all times. 
  8. Do not overload your boat.
    Most boats have a capacity plate that will state how many passengers or the maximum weight the boat is designed for.
  9. Littering into the water is illegal.
  10.  Become familiar with the waters you are boating on.
    Talk to those familiar with the area regarding known hazards such as shallow areas or rocks.
  11. Take the time to invest in your safety.
    Take a boater safety education course. These may also earn you an insurance discount.