In my defense, I’m pretty sure I did comply with the spirit of the law, even though the law enforcement officer told me last Saturday I had violated the letter of the law.
I’m not, and never have been, the sort of person the dictionary means when it refers to a “scofflaw.’’ That’s someone who flouts the law. Flout (as long as I had the dictionary out, I looked it up, too) means to treat with deliberate contempt. According to “The Elements of Style’’ by Strunk and White, flout is the proper word here, although I sometimes find myself starting to write “flaunt,’’ which is another matter entirely.
What I did to find myself under the scrutiny of the law was to put the plug in my boat in my driveway before I drove to the boat ramp. Sure, I’ve seen the signs painted on the boat ramp parking lots. The inbound lane reads “Plug in.’’ The outbound lane reads “Plug out.’’ We’re doing battle with aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels, and the proper method for boating these days is to pop in the plug before you back down the ramp to the water to launch and then pull the plug after you trailer your boat before you drive out of the parking lot.
The pertinent Game, Fish and Parks Department regulation, in a section of rules calls watercraft restrictions, says, “Except for emergency response boats or as authorized by the secretary, all trailered boats shall have all drain plugs, bailers, valves or other devices used to control the drainage of water opened or removed except while in a boat ramp parking area or while being launched or loaded.’’ I read that rule a couple of times just now, but I couldn’t find an exemption for boaters who only live 10 blocks from the ramp.
I always remove the plug from my boat at the parking lot while I’m fastening the straps that hold the boat to the trailer. Over the years, I just got in the habit of popping the plug in before I left home. That way I wouldn’t forget, as I sometimes used to do – not a lot, but often enough. It’s a huge pain to have the boat halfway into the water before Nancy says, “Did you put the plug in?’’ Boating people are some of the friendliest folks in the world, but not on a busy Saturday when a guy is parked on the ramp out of the water letting the river drain from the bottom of his craft.
As I said, I put the plug in the boat in the driveway and headed for the river. I did a big sweeping turn in the parking lot and climbed out of my pickup to unfasten the straps. As I did, I saw a uniformed woman exiting an official looking vehicle and walking my way. My way? Huh? Probably wants to know if I’m going fishing, I thought. Nope. She politely wanted to know if I was aware that I had the plug in the boat. Well, I’m getting forgetful, but I could hardly fail to remember what I’d done just 10 blocks earlier.
We had a brief chat. She asked why I put the plug in at home. I explained the fear of forgetting. She nodded but cited the regulation. She also said the fine would increase today on July 1 to some astronomical amount. I said I’d never do it again. She said she wouldn’t ticket me. I complimented her on her eyesight, spotting the plug at the bottom of my boat under the lower unit. She wished me a nice day on the water.
People all around the parking lot saw the whole thing. “She was wondering if I planned to do any fishing,’’ I told the nearest guy. He nodded, but I think maybe he didn’t believe me.
That would have been the end of things, except that when I trailered the boat later in the afternoon and was pulling the plug, the same officer strolled up. She smiled and asked to see some lifejackets, a throwable device and a fire extinguisher.
I did. Those boating accessories I never forget.