Keeping boaters safe on Chautauqua Lake is a family affair for Greg and David Paterniti.
The Chautauqua County Sheriff's deputies are brothers who have served a combined total of more than 60 years with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office. During the off-season, Greg Paterniti, now retired from his previous job as principal at Southwestern Middle School, works part-time for the Ellicott Police Department. David Paterniti works for the BPU in Jamestown.
When Greg Paterniti began working with the Navigation department 35 years ago, the department patrolled Findley Lake, Cassadaga Lake, Lake Erie, Barcelona, Dunkirk and Chautauqua Lake. There were 25 officers in the department, and deputies were split into two shifts on the weekdays and three shifts on weekends.
Above is Greg Paterniti, who patrols Chautauqua Lake with his brother, David.
P-J?photos by Ryan Atkins
However, due to budget cuts over recent years, the patrol has been reduced in many of those areas. Now, there are only six officers in the Navigation department, with most of its activities on-call rather than regular patrols..
The brothers are also in charge of teaching the boater safety courses that are offered by the Sheriff's Office, free of charge, three to four times every season. New York is one of only two states that requires boaters to take an in-person safety course, the other being Connecticut.
"I like that they require in-person classes because we get to meet boaters and they get to meet us," said David Paterniti. "It's nice that they get to know who they're going to be dealing with out on the water."
A recent ride on a Navigation Department patrol on Chautauqua Lake saw little action, with the skies not clearing up until well after noon.
One of the first stops the deputies made, however, was to check on a sail boat that became stuck the night prior. With the help of the Summer Wind, the sail boat made it back to harbor safely without the need for assistance from the Sheriff's Office.
LAWS OF THE LAKE
Between noon and 5 p.m., the deputies made close to a dozen stops on the lake, most of which were focused on checking for boater safety cards.
"We'll usually check to make sure that anyone on a personal watercraft, like a jet ski, has their boater safety card," said Greg Paterniti.
Although anyone over the age of 18 is permitted to pilot a boat without taking the safety course, it's a requirement for anyone on a personal watercraft, regardless of age.
"We also like to check for personal floatation devices (life vests) when we see pontoon boats with a lot of people on them," he said. "I think it's a good idea for everyone to take the safety class. We have a lot of local laws and regulations that are specific to this area that people might not know otherwise."
During the early evening, the deputies also stationed the boat near the Village Casino in Bemus Point, one of the busiest spots on the lake. From this area, they continued scouting the lake for possible infractions, including speeding. Much of the water surrounding Bemus Point and the bridge that sits just to the south is considered a no-wake zone, which means anyone traveling through the area is required to slow down to a speed that will not create a wake behind the vessel.
The posted speed limit is 5 mph, however the signs are not easy to see and the high number of boaters from out of town make it a spot that sees a lot of boaters who may not be aware of the regulations. The Paternitis do their best, however, to make sure that everyone going through this area is aware of the speed limit so that the waters stay safe for all those around them.
Although it isn't an easy task for the brothers to keep tabs on who has taken the boater safety class, since 2000, they have been keeping a database of every person that has gone through their class. There are other classes offered in several locations around the region, but many people on the lake recognize the deputies from taking the safety course with them.
When the Paternitis do come across someone without their safety card, or who is breaking another law on the lake, the protocol followed is very similar to what happens when someone is pulled over on the road. A ticket is written, the report is sent in to the Sheriff's office and the boater is released.
One of the most unexpected things about being on the lake with the patrol was the number of boaters that thanked them for what they did, even if they were being given a ticket.
"Boaters out here tend to be really grateful for what we do," said Greg Paterniti. "Overall, people are really well behaved and respect each other and the lake."
David Paterniti continued, "It's a really great place to spend your time during the summer, and our presence out here helps to set the tone for what's acceptable."
For more information on the Navigation department and the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office, visit www.sheriff.us.