For the second year in a row, about 200 people floated four miles down the Kennebec River on Sunday in canoes and on floats and rafts, many of them equipped with coolers.

The informal event raised money for charity, said Jared Baker, of Pittston, the event’s organizer, and started last year with a goal of “getting people out doing things” on the river.

“The river’s always been a part of my family’s life,” said Baker, whose family runs an eponymous smelt camp business in Pittston. “It’s an awesome thing.”

But with alcohol around, was the informal event strictly legal? Probably not.

The Maine Warden Service, the Maine Marine Patrol and other agencies strictly enforce drinking-while-boating laws, especially in motorized boats.

But drinking while boating on any river, lake or pond in Maine is also illegal for operators and boat passengers, since the water bodies are public and drinking in public is illegal, according to the warden service.

However, there’s no open-container prohibition on boats in Maine as there is in cars, said Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

If the Marine Patrol saw one, he said, it “would use open containers to determine if there is probable cause to check if an operator of a water craft is impaired.” Nichols said it also enforces public drinking laws. Violating them is only a misdemeanor, however.

This year, patrols didn’t bother floaters, who showed up with life jackets and were courteous, he said. Baker said everyone who participated in the event “was properly equipped and kept it quite reasonable.”

Longtime central Mainers might have noticed that the Sunday float looked a lot like the Great Kennebec River Whatever Race, a floating six-mile race from Augusta to Gardiner that started in the 1970s as a way to celebrate the cleanup of the Kennebec River.

Baker said he got the idea from that race, but his event isn’t aimed at succeeding it. However, he said he hopes it becomes a regular tradition on the river. Last year, about 60 people floated. This year, fueled by attention on Facebook, more than 200 showed up, Baker said.

The Whatever Race lasted through the mid-1990s, but the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, which ran the event, stopped it, with chamber president Peter Thompson telling the Kennebec Journal last year that it was “a danger” partly because of alcohol.

This year, Baker said attendees donated about $300 to charity, joking that it was to do something “other than just drinking all day.” He’s now deciding whether that will go to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society or the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Baker’s plan is to float again next year on the Sunday after Old Hallowell Day, the festival that draws thousands downtown, if the tide allows.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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