On The Water: Bad Boaters a Holiday Menace

Boat/U.S., the all-purpose organization for water nuts like ourselves, passes along this chilling little item: More people die in boating accidents on the July Fourth weekend than during any other weekend of the year.

Across the country, the number of fatalities could be 60 or more, the organization predicts. Given the traffic on the Chesapeake Bay, it's more than possible that we could be part of the numbers.

We know that beer and boating on a hot day is as American as July 4 itself, and we would not presume to suggest a switch to ice tea. (Nonetheless, the statistics show that half of the boating deaths are "alcohol related.")

That phrase means more than a drunk at the helm. The boating organization notes that drinking is not always the problem in and of itself. What often happens is that the effects of alcohol can become magnified all too swiftly by a combination of sun, wind, noise and vibration, not to mention the to and fro of the waves.

They even have a name for this condition: Boater's fatigue.

Matters can become even worse for two reasons: One is crowded rivers and waterfronts, often with boats jockeying in the dark for choice vantage points to watch the many fireworks displays that we tell you about elsewhere in this issue.

Secondly, speedy and discourteous boaters not only threaten by collision, they also spark displays of temper that can mean trouble on a vessel with 300 or more horsepower and no brakes. Unfortunately, this speed and discourtesy often is the province of people operating jet skis, which continue to proliferate on Bay waters.

Under the law, these personal watercraft are forbidden to race near fixed structures or other boats. But we have witnessed that law flaunted in recent days. We continue to see crackdowns around the country, such as the brand new ban on jet skis within 1,250 feet of the shoreline in the Florida Keys.

As much as we're tempted, we don't like to see bans on any expressions of personal freedom. But like drinking boaters, jet ski operators on the Chesapeake need to understand that their days of unbridled freedom may be growing short unless they can find a way not to threaten and antagonize.

There's a huge Bay out there with loads of fun to be had. But there's more than few good reasons to practice the principles of precaution when we head out there this weekend.

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VolumeVI Number 26
July 2-8 1998
New Bay Times

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