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Archive for Saturday, May 29, 1993

BOATERS GET WORDS OF WARNING

May 29, 1993

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Summertime, and the boating is easy.

White-sailed boats skim across an azure lake, while water skiers tethered to speedboats zigzag across the water.

Meanwhile, anglers armed with fishing poles head for quiet waters where bass and crappie lurk.

Park rangers won't predict sunny weather for the Memorial Day weekend, but they are counting on a boating invasion, especially if blue skies prevail.

But the rangers warn that idyllic boating days can turn tragic if boaters set out with too many sixpacks of beer or too few life jackets on board.

So far this year there have been four fatal boating accidents in the state, of which two were alcohol-related, said Cheri Miller, boating education coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

In 1992, there were 51 boating accidents and six fatalities in Kansas, Miller said. Nationwide, about half of all fatal boat accidents are alcohol-related, she said.

The department used a federal grant to hire two boating enforcement specialists last winter. They will help enforce Kansas' new boating-under-the-influence law, which lowers from .10 to .08 the blood alcohol level that defines intoxication, she said.

Just as friends who go out drinking should have a designated driver, friends who go boating should designate a "sober skipper," Miller said.

Safety is not a high enough priority with some boaters, said Stacey Umscheid, manager of the Clinton Marina at Clinton Lake.

"I think that boating safety is something that's not looked upon as very critical," she said. "I think that for some people it's probably a problem. I think some people, when they're on the lake, they think they can do what they want. They're out to have a good time, and they're not thinking about the consequences."

The Memorial Day weekend is usually the busiest boating weekend of the year and can also be the most dangerous, said Teresa Rasmussen, park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Clinton Lake.

"It's the time that boaters need to be especially careful," she said. "The boats have been in storage all year, so they should be inspected carefully, and make sure the PFDs (personal flotation devices) are usable. Of course, everyone is anxious to get out on the lake, after being inside all winter."

Boaters also should be in the habit of wearing life jackets at all times, Rasmussen said.

Don't try to pack too much fun into the three-day weekend, Rasmussen warns.

"All that activity tends to wear on them," she said. "Later in the afternoon and early evening is the hazardous time. People are tired, and it tends to be a time when they let up their guard."

State law requires children 12 years and younger to wear a life jacket, and adults should also wear one, the rangers said.

"Our only drowning last year involved a small child who ran off quickly and disappeared off the end of the dock," Rasmussen said. "They're so fast. You've got to watch the kids."

"If you're not wearing it, then have easy accessibility," said Dennis Archer, park manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Perry Lake. "You only have one chance, and the PFD is the closest friend you've got."

During National Safe Boating Week, which starts June 6, the Wildlife and Parks Department will offer boating safety courses in Topeka and Wichita and statewide courtesy marine inspections at major reservoirs, with the assistance of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Miller said.

The department also is in the process of starting a volunteer instructor program to teach boating statewide, she said.

Boaters need to be aware that heavy rains this spring have pushed area lake and river levels to record levels, burying boat ramps and hiding underwater hazards, rangers warn.

At Perry Lake, "there's lake maps available that they can get at the project office, that show the parts of the lake that are underwater right now," Archer said.

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