Crowded waters require extra safety

July 05, 1999|By ERIN HEATH

WILLIAMSPORT - Dozens of people spent their Fourth of July trying to beat the heat by going boating at Dam No. 4 during the day.

But with so many people using one boat launch, safety was a main concern with many of the people spending their holiday on the C&O Canal.

"We wear life jackets, and we pay attention to where the boats are around us," said boat passenger Victoria Thomas of Deep Creek Lake.

Eleven people died and 121 people were injured in the 215 boating accidents that occurred last year in Maryland. Over half of those who died weren't wearing their life jackets, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.


"This is my first time out here," said Donna Johnson of Mount Airy, who came with her husband, her two children and her neighbors.

Johnson was sitting next to the launch as she watched members of her family prepare to take off on a personal watercraft. She said she let her kids swim a little but made sure they weren't put in danger by the constant stream of people bringing their boats and personal watercraft to and from the water.

"I wouldn't let them out of my sight," she said.

Johnson's neighbor, Tammy Durbin, said she had seen steady traffic coming to the launch in the hour and a half since she arrived at Dam No. 4. But the traffic wasn't as bad as it usually is on sunny days, she said, possibly because of the heat or because people were out of town for the holiday weekend.

"A lot of times there are lines (of cars) coming in to drop off the boats and pick them up," she said. "There aren't that many places to take a boat out around here."

In addition to paying attention to the traffic at boat launches, there are a number of things people with personal watercraft should do to reduce the risk of boating accidents, according to the department.

First, all passengers should wear a life jacket that fits properly and is U.S. Coast Guard-approved.

"Simply wearing a life jacket dramatically reduces a person's risk of drowning should a boating mishap occur," said Virgil Chambers, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council.

To keep maximum visibility, people should not operate a boat or personal watercraft after dark, and they should slow down when they are within 100 feet of people, other boats, the shore or man-made obstructions such as docks.

Anyone who operates a personal watercraft in Maryland must be at least 16 years old.

People should only water-ski behind vessels that are designed for the sport and can carry at least three people, safety officials say.

And no one operating a boat or personal watercraft should drink alcohol, weave through congested boat traffic or jump wakes, or waves, the department says.

Alcohol is involved in at least half of all boating accidents, according to the department.

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