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Boaters reminded of water safety

May 23, 1997

By SAMANTHA KRULEWITZ

Staff Writer

This holiday weekend brings the opening of boating season, and authorities are urging people to exercise care while on the water.

In 1996, there were two fatalities is Washington County from boating accidents. One of the accidents was due to falling overboard and the other was caused by a boat sinking.

An important safety tip is remembering to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs). They are required by law when using any type of water craft in Maryland. Of boating fatalities in 1996, 31.58 percent of the victims were not wearing flotation devices.

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Three boaters who wear their devices arrived at Big Slackwater on the Potomac River Friday to do some water skiing. Unfortunately, their engine wouldn't drop down from its storage position because of a faulty part.

The owner of the boat, Tom Reed of Gettysburg, Pa., said this was his first attempt to put his boat into the water this year, although he had been out on the river in his friend Doug Cullison's boat. Reed, Cullison and their friend Todd Jordan wanted to do some skiing before the weekend.

"There will be lines of people down here Saturday, that's why we came today," Reed said while working on his Checkmate's engine. "We wear PFDs when we're skiing. Even so, it's safer in the boat than out on the skis."

Reed, Cullison and Jordan took the boat to be fixed in Hagerstown, but at last look, it did not appear that they would be able to ski the five or six hours they had planned to Friday.

"It sure would be nice to be out on the river," Cullison said while sitting in the red and black boat while a service worker looked at the smoking part. "We could go home and get the canoe and go to Laurel lake."

There were many boats and jet skis in the water Friday, but more boaters are expected today and Sunday. Bill Whittington, assistant sales manager at Twigg Cycles Inc. in Hagerstown, said that he and 15 of his buddies would be out on the Potomac River with jet skis on Saturday.

Jeff Davis, general manager of Twigg Cycles Inc., said regulations that apply to all motorboats also apply to jet skis because they have inboard engines.

"If you were born after July 1, 1972, you must have a boating safety certificate," Davis said. "It makes sure you know the rules of the road. That's where the problems come from. People don't know anything about rules of boating."

Davis said that knowing the rules is particularly important for jet ski operators because sometimes boaters get too involved.

"When you're out trying to keep the ski up, you're myopic," Davis said. "You're consumed with what you're doing."

Davis said most wrecks are caused by operator error.

The most popular places to go boating in the area are: Dam No. 4 and Dam No. 5, Raystown and Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, Davis said. If willing to travel, the two most popular places to boat and ski are the Chesapeake Bay and Ocean City.

He said the dams on the Potomac are very popular because of the water.

"It's a nice stretch of flat water," Davis said. "The water moves slowly so it's good for recreation."

Davis said that Maryland's Department of Natural Resources offers classes on boating safety. The four-hour classes are sometimes at Twigg Cycle for free. Hagerstown Junior College also offers the class at a cost of $50.

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