Parks and waterways in the area are enforcing strict regulation in an effort to keep things safe this Fourth of July.
By KATIE-NELL SCANLON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- More Americans are dipping into their finances, eager to ride the waves.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources found that the number of recreational watercraft owned in the United States last year was estimated at 17 million -- a 10-percent increase since 1988.
Americans spent $25.6 billion on new and used boats, motors, engines, trailers, accessories and other marine-related equipment, compared with $11.2 billion in 1993.
Ohio is flowing with the current of the increasing trend. The state ranks eighth nationally in the number of registered watercraft. An estimated 3.5 million Ohioans go boating each year.
To make sure boaters are keeping their eyes on the water this Fourth of July, state watercraft officers are orchestrating a "Blow the Whistle Campaign."
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft will distribute more than 5,000 Fox 40 whistles through July 7. Boaters seen wearing their life jackets and performing safe boating regulations along waterways receive the free whistle.
The whistles are intended to act as an accessory to a life jacket. Each device meets legal requirements to produce sound when carried aboard boats less than 40 feet long.
Life jackets required
Personal watercraft users, water skiers and children under 10 on boats less than 18 feet are required to wear a life jacket while on Ohio's waterways.
Jeff Hoedt, Division of Watercraft chief, said the campaign "gives our officers a chance to explain to boaters that if they find themselves in the water unexpectedly, in most cases it is too late to consider putting on a life jacket."
Parks and waterways in the area are enforcing strict regulation in an effort to keep things safe this holiday.
Barbara Neill, assistant manager of Lake Milton State Park in Mahoning County, said most accidents occur because of inexperience. Neill said collisions and fatalities almost always involve "speeding, not paying attention, turning too fast and not stopping."
Officers are even more watchful with the renovation of the Interstate 76 bridge this year. Traffic is limited on the water.
Mosquito Creek State Park on Mosquito Lake in Trumbull County is also preparing for a crowded holiday weekend. Assistant Park Manager Jeff Orth said his advice to boaters is "to be up on current weather conditions and keep an eye on the sky."
"We perform ramp checks, wake violations and check for evening lights," Orth explained. "We also check for overloading to make sure there's not too many people on board the watercraft."
Alan Gatchel, manager of Guilford Lake State Park in Columbiana County, said extra patrols will be enforcing the normal 10-horsepower and 10mph restriction on the 500-acre lake.
In anticipation of the additional visitors, Gatchel said they'll be looking out for the safety of all on the water.
In 2001, Pennsylvania reported 90 accidents, 28 of which were collisions and 22 collisions between vessels. Thirteen recreational boating accidents left 14 people dead. Ten of those deaths were caused by capsizing or falling overboard.
Pete Houghton, park manager of Pymatuning State Park in Mercer and Crawford counties, said the fireworks display keeps boaters on the water past daylight, another risk to watch out for.
With patrol boats at various locations on the lake, Houghton said they are "better prepared to respond and enforce" regulations and safety measures to prevent accidents.
The use of alcohol on the water is another threat to the safety of boaters over the holiday weekend. In 2001, 16 percent of all reported accidents in Ohio involved alcohol.
Rita Getsay of Moraine State Park near New Castle says officials prohibit alcohol on the park grounds year round.
"Our own park rangers will be patrolling the grounds for the Fourth," Getsay explained. "The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will also be here enforcing the standard state rules."
Getsay said boaters who plan on renting boats on the 3,225-acre lake must be at least age 18, and all passengers under age 13 are to wear lifejackets at all times.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission offers standard classroom courses that familiarize boaters with laws and regulations. Dan Martin, Boating Safety and Education manager for the PFBC, said in a recent press release, "new boaters should always learn practical boating skills with the help of an experienced boat operator."
Home courses are available, and a Pennsylvania Boating Handbook can be obtained through the PFBC.
Daniel Tredennick, press secretary for the PFBC, said the traffic over the holiday deserves extra attention from boaters.
"Boaters need to be aware of their surroundings and acknowledge that there are a lot of other users on the water," Tredennick said.