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Holiday was safe on the river

July 06, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Kayaking on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers around Harpers Ferry on Sunday, pals Mike Moore and Carolyn Dick found lots of company in the unseasonably low water.

"There were tons - rafters, tubers, kayakers," said Moore, 31, of Hagerstown, who met Dick, 35, of Washington, D.C., on an earlier outing in the same area.

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Both trained in river rescue, they said they were glad to see most fellow boaters donning life jackets.

Even when the water is very low, it still holds the potential for danger, said Dick, who said she and Moore carried a range of safety gear in addition to their required life jackets and helmets.

Luckily, they said, they had no occasion to use their rescue equipment and expertise.

While rainy weather cut the number of boaters taking to the water during parts of the Fourth of July weekend, the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers were still teeming with motorcraft, keeping authorities busy checking on their safety.

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No boating accidents were reported in local waters over the weekend, according to law enforcement officers and emergency services dispatchers.

Though they have no jurisdiction on the rivers, park rangers patroled the riverbanks at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and kept a watchful eye for boating regulation violators, according to a park ranger with the National Park Service there.

"Fortunately, we haven't had any difficulties this year," said the ranger, who said the number of "educational contacts" rangers needed to make with boaters violating various park and state regulations was also down for a holiday weekend.

The rainy weather helped by the keeping volume of boaters below the swell, she said.

Still, rangers saw a lot of boaters with alcohol, a no-no when it comes to safe boating and a potential violation of the law if it's consumed by the boat's driver, the ranger said.

Boating-related fatalities now rank second to car crashes in transportation-related deaths in the United States, according to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

In 1997, four people were killed and 22 were injured in boating accidents in West Virginia, according to the agency's statistics.

Drinking and boating kills more people during the Fourth of July weekend than during any other weekend of the year, according to Sgt. Tim Coleman of the agency's Law Enforcement Section.

The movement of the water makes it more difficult to control a boat than a car, which makes it even more dangerous to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol, said Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Patty Manown Mash.

"Even a beer slows down your reaction times," said Manown, who said the DNR has been pushing sobriety for boat operators in its safety campaign.

Fourth of July weekend is one of the busiest times for DNR officers, who were out in force patroling the Potomac River over the weekend, Mash said.

The river is especially vulnerable to mishaps in Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland because it is narrow and used for multiple purposes, including leisure pontoon boat cruising, waterskiing and personal watercrafting, she said.

Mash said she wasn't aware of any accidents on that leg of the Potomac over the holiday weekend.

"We're certainly grateful for people using their heads," she said.

Greencastle, Pa., residents Amanda Reed and Jerry Randell said they try to be careful when they go out boating.

They always wear their life jackets and never drink alcohol, said Reed, 28, who said she followed another boating safety rule and told family members where they were going and when they should be back.

Canoeing on the Potomac near Bottom Park in Williamsport, Sunday morning, Reed said they didn't find the water crowded like it was around Harpers Ferry.

Unfortunately, they didn't find many fish either, said Randell, 36.

"They went away for the holiday, I guess," Reed said.

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