Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Bevy of boaters expected

Holiday brings increased traffic, accidents

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Fourth of July is about summer sun, time off and the chance to party with friends. Now, imagine that heady mix on the Ohio River and Tristate lakes.

        The holiday brings out boaters in droves, which guarantees a higher concentration of inexperienced operators, holiday drinkers, small craft and large boats with wakes to upset the balance all around.

        The prospects are keeping Fred and Audrey Sharn, a Mariemont couple in their 70's, on dry land.

[photo] Fred Sharn of Mariemont cleans his boat at the Four Seasons Marina in Columbia Tusculum.
(Enquirer photo)
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        “There's too much partying going on. I'd prefer to not go out on a busy holiday. The older you become, (the) more cautious,” said Mrs. Sharn, in her bare feet Tuesday at Four Seasons Marina in Columbia Tusculum. She and her husband were washing down the Sea Ray boat that they own with their 44-year-old daughter, who will be behind the wheel today.

        “She likes to speed,” Mr. Sharn said.

        “And we like to totter along,” said his wife.

        Last year, there were 588,122 registered boaters in Ohio and Kentucky, a 6 percent increase over 1996. The two states have recorded 104 boating deaths in the last three years.

        “They're out there trying to have a good time,” said Petty Officer Darrin Cliffe of the U.S. Coast Guard in Cincinnati. “That's when accidents happen ... when they let their guard down.”

        He expects 3,000 boaters to hit the Ohio River today. The number could be lower, he said, because rain is expected and the holiday falls in the middle of the work week.

        “We'll get a fair crowd, but I don't think it'll be crowded,” he said.

        While any summer holiday can make boating more perilous, Riverfest is the toughest, say river watchers.

   The U.S. Coast Guard offers this advice to boaters:
   • Use life jackets.
   • Don't drink and drive.
   • Keep a safe distance from other boaters.
   • Use common sense.
        On that day, boaters are concentrated along the downtown riverfront to angle for the best seats for the fireworks.

        Holiday boaters always make Steve Stapleton, 45, of Edgewood, nervous. On Tuesday morning, he hitched his 205-horsepower boat to his sports utility vehicle and headed to Williamstown Lake in Grant County. He planned to take the boat out Tuesday evening and early this morning.

        “I try to stay out of their way. I'd rather be safe than sorry. There are a lot of good boaters out there. A lot just don't look out for the others,” he said while at Four Seasons.

        The marina plays host to about 500 boats that are capable of going up to 60 mph. The boat names there often imply what boaters have in mind when they hit the water — Escape, The Six Pac, Scotch 'n' Water and Miss B Haven.

        Kevin and Maggie Guilfoyle of Mount Washington were packing up their boat, Blood, Sweat and Beers, before heading to Madison, Ind., to watch some weekend boat races.

        Memorial Day always makes them nervous because novice boaters are anxious to show off the boats that they bought over the winter. Labor Day also causes them concern because many boaters consider the holiday “the last party of the summer,” they said.

        But they don't underestimate July 4th's implicit perils.

        “You try to be a little bit more aware of what's going on,” Mr. Guilfoyle said. “You try to anticipate what people are going to do.”


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