TACOMA – Deaths from boating-related incidents in Washington are unusually high this year, possibly because of an unusually warm and dry summer, state and local officials say.
Going into the Labor Day weekend and fall fishing and bird hunting seasons, the state Parks and Recreation Commission has tallied 26 boating-related deaths in 2006, one more than in all of last year and the most since 27 people died in 2002.
“We’re concerned that the fatality rate is up,” said James M. French, the commission’s administrator of recreation programs.
A complete explanation may be difficult to achieve, but French and Officer Joshua D. Boyd of the Tacoma police marine unit said this week that unusually warm, sunny weather this summer has likely drawn more people to the water, some of them boating novices who don’t know or don’t follow safety rules and regulations.
“We had 10 fatalities in July this year, which is very unusual,” French said.
Some who embark on “spontaneous boating adventures” get into trouble for lack of familiarity with the difference between operating a boat and driving a car, he suggested.
“Unlike on the highways, the boat operator is frequently distracted by things – his own skier or wakeboarder behind him, the people on his boat, things happening on the water around him,” French said. “Repeatedly, we have boating accidents where both boat operators say they didn’t see the other boat coming.”
More boats on the water, reckless driving and irresponsible drinking of alcohol have contributed to an increase in accidents, some of them fatal, Boyd said.
“Most of us would agree that folks are going too fast and they’re drinking too much,” he added.
Boyd noted that Washington lacks the kind of state-mandated safety instruction and boat operator licensing laws that are on the books in Oregon and 34 other states.
“I really think that would make a big impact on some of these stats,” he said.
Under regulations that are being phased in starting in 2008 in Washington, people 20 years old or younger will be required to pass a basic boating class to obtain a boater education card that will entitle them to operate motor boats with at least 15 horsepower.