Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Sheriff's Office

Marine and Trail Enforcement Bureau

The Marine and Trail Enforcement Bureau is staffed year-round by two full-time deputies and one sergeant. During the summer, several other deputies serve on Boat Patrol and augment the unit. The primary focus of the unit includes boat patrol, snowmobile patrol, and ATV patrol. All three of these patrol functions are funded in large part by the DNR through a reimbursement program.

Marine Enforcement

The unit is responsible for patrol and enforcement on Dane County lakes year-round. Although there are 37 lakes within Dane County, boat patrol is primarily focused on lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Kegonsa. Response to lake rescues, accidents, or drowning investigations include all the county lakes, as well as 14 miles of the Wisconsin River. The unit has a patrol boat housed on each of the four main lakes, with two boats on the largest lake (Mendota). An additional boat is kept on a trailer for responses to the outlying lakes.

Due to the unique nature of the responsibilities of the Marine and Trail Enforcement Bureau, staff members are each assigned a take-home four-wheel-drive squad. The vehicles are used to tow all of the previously mentioned equipment, as well as carry various types of rescue equipment. We have staff on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Boat Safety

With well over 25,000 registered boats in Dane County and an increasing amount of tourist boating traffic, the summer boat patrol period is very busy with law enforcement, accident investigations, and rescue operations. A very important component of keeping the lakes safe and enforcing the law is boating safety education. The Sheriff's Office strongly encourages all boaters to take a boater safety course. For information on when and where classes are available, please call the Wisconsin DNR at (608) 275-3266.

If you are unable to attend a class in person, an online version is available, which can be completed at your own pace from the comfort of your home computer. Click here to take the Official Wisconsin Boating Safety Course Online! This course is intended for those over the age of 16. Completion of the online course will enable you to receive an actual Boat Safety Certificate. Note that the course costs $35.95 including a state fee.

The online course does not discuss specific issues and laws related to Dane County lakes.


Although boating is full of fun and leisure, the number one priority for everyone on the water should be safety.

  • Check the weather prior to heading out on the water and continue to monitor the conditions while on the water.
  • Do not bring or consume alcohol or drugs while on the water.
  • Everyone on board should be wearing a US Coast Guard approved life jacket.
  • All vessel operators should utilize an engine cut-off switch.
  • Take a boater safety course prior to heading out on the water.
  • Have visual distress signals and sound producing devices in case of an emergency.
  • Pay attention to buoys and navigation aids.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings and have a look-out.
  • Carry at least two communication devices that will work when wet.

May is National Water Safety Month and the Dane County Sheriff’s Office along with the Operation Dry Water campaign wants to make sure boaters are prepared for this year’s boating season!

Snowmobile and ATV Enforcement

Despite not having ATV trails, Dane County has a wonderful snowmobile trail system with over 300 miles of marked trails. Although winters of recent years have limited the amount of useable snow cover, the unit also patrols the county's trail system enforcing snowmobile laws and investigating accidents. Two snowmobiles are kept in a trailer for use on patrol and response to emergencies on the trails.

For patrolling the ice, two ATVs equipped with flotation are used. When the ice is unstable and unsafe, the staff uses the airboat that allows them to move across ice or open water.

Effective immediately, flotation inspections and certificates are no longer required to operate a vehicle on the icebound waters of Dane County lakes. Dane County Ordinance 71.11 was amended and no longer requires them. You must still maintain flotation devices on vehicles less than 850 pounds on the icebound waters of Lakes Mendota, Monona, and Wingra. Flotation devices are also required on vehicles between 750 and 850 pounds operating on any other icebound lake waters. A special certificate is available and required for vehicles weighing 850 pounds or more. Please see Ordinance 71.13 for these exceptions to the weight limitations. Failure to have the flotation devices or to obtain a special certificate for the weight exception will likely result in a citation.

For more information on flotation devices, please see the Dane County Ice Ordinance.