Monday, August 11, 2003

Boating accidents across state waterways rise

FRANKFORT - Boating accidents on Kentucky's rivers and lakes have increased significantly in the last five years, according to state figures.

There were 159 boating accidents reported in 2002 to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. That's up from 90 accidents reported in 1998.

The increase comes even though there has been no significant increase in the number of boats registered in the state.

The number of tickets issued for boating under the influence of alcohol nearly doubled from 58 in 1999 to 102 in 2002. Other alcohol intoxication citations - those issued to boat passengers - increased to 514 last year from 183 in 1998.

Nevertheless, the number of fatalities has remained steady, averaging about 15 each year, according to state figures compiled by The Courier-Journal.

State wildlife officials and police offered several explanations for rise in accidents. Some blame bigger, faster boats. Others think boaters don't know the rules of the waterways.

"It's not real funny when you get buzzed and the wake nearly throws you out of your boat," said Michael Jones of Murray, a regular visitor to Kentucky Lake. "I see some stupid things going on, but I blame the driver, not the boat."

But others give high marks to the safety of places like Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

"Trouble? None here," said Mark Stephens of Indianapolis. "I have been at other lakes out of state that were wild, and I can't imagine it any better than I saw here."

Many boaters say the waters seem to be more congested. But any effort to limit speed or power faces a largely skeptical boating constituency of fishermen, houseboat owners, pleasure-craft operators, personal-watercraft riders, yacht owners and the marinas that serve them.

Kentucky has no general speed limits on its waterways and doesn't require a boating license or attendance at boating-safety classes.

An accident on the Ohio River on June 27 focused attention on problems with one type of boat, said Lt. Mike Fields of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife water enforcement. Witnesses said a 40-foot, high-speed sport boat, commonly known as a "cigarette boat," ran over a pleasure craft half its size. The accident raised questions about whether more controls on the water were needed, but sentiment seemed against it.

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