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Boating accidents rising; local residents asked to be careful

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Posted: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 10:00 pm

The good news for California water lovers is that boating deaths have dropped significantly since 1980.

The bad news is that the number of accidents last year is the highest since the Department of Boating and Waterways began keeping such records three decades ago.

Almost 1,000 accidents led to 61 deaths and more than 500 injuries last year, according to the department.

Of 58 counties in California, San Joaquin County ranked seventh highest in number of accidents. From the Mokelumne River to the numerous waterways in the Delta, the county attracts numerous boaters, both visitors and residents.

A vast majority of the accidents happened in the summer months, peaking in July. As temperatures increase, more people head to the water to cool down. The more boats on the water, the higher the risk.

In addition to having rescue equipment ready, the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department has increased boat patrols to cover the whole weekend, said Sgt. Chris Stevens.

But the best way to prevent deaths in the water, he said, is to simply wear a life jacket.

"If you are in the water and are anywhere other than in a swimming pool, you need to wear some type a personal flotation device," Stevens said.

Though California laws only require that children 12 and under wear a life jacket, officials recommend that adults follow suit.

Only one of last year's 37 drowning victims was wearing a life jacket.

In addition, anyone drinking alcohol should not drive a boat, Stevens said. State statistics show that alcohol was involved in one-fifth of last year's accidents.

While flotation devices and drinking responsibly were the two things Stevens emphasized, he also advised boat owners to check their equipment before taking it to the water. Boats that have been sitting all winter may need maintenance, just as a stored car would need to be checked before taken on the road, he said.

Though there were no boating fatalities last year in San Joaquin County, 22 people were injured.

The 48 accidents within the county last year resulted in $319,200 worth of property damage, according to state statistics.

In Sacramento County, the numbers were much smaller, but there was one fatality. There, a total of six people were injured in 22 accidents that caused $133,800 worth of property damage.

The report says alcohol was a factor in more than one-fifth of the state deaths. Almost one-third of all those who died were fishing, according to the report.

A majority of the deaths, accidents and injuries happened in Northern California, with most of the deaths at lakes.

In Southern California, seven died at the coast and seven perished in rivers, including two in the Colorado River along the Arizona border.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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