The Washington Times - August 25, 2009, 04:53AM

What is it about people who normally drive their automobiles in a reasonable manner, but the moment they’re behind the steering wheel of a powerboat, all the rules of decent behavior are forgotten?

The correspondence that reaches us from the various natural resources police and boating administrations in the Mid-Atlantic states is filled with examples of boaters, caught driving while drunk and accidents caused by boat drivers who do not have even an inkling of proper conduct on the water.


When I’m on the water -– and that is at least 3 or 4 times every week –- the fact that so many water lovers have no clue about boat driving laws, or who has the right-of-way on a river or bay, or when to slow down, gives me a case of the jitters. And I’m not alone.

Add the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary which is greatly concerned over current statistics that show a rise in recreational boating. The fatality rate — a measure of the number of deaths against the number of registered recreational boats — increased from 5.3 in 2007 to 5.6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational boats in 2008.

During this time, the Coast Guard recorded 709 deaths, 3,331 injuries and approximately $54 million dollars in damage to property, stemming from 4,789 recreational boating accidents. Not paying attention, careless and reckless operation, not having a proper lookout on the boat (in the case of water skiers), operator inexperience and poor passenger or skier behavior rank as the top contributing factors to accidents on the water.

Alcohol consumption continues to be of major concern in fatal boating accidents and is listed as the leading contributing factor in 17 percent of the deaths, the Coast Guard Auxiliary warns.

Rear Adm. Kevin Cook, the Coast Guard’s director of prevention policy, emphasizes the importance of boating education.

“The 2008 report shows a clear link between safety and boating education by highlighting that only 10 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety education. This statistic indicates that boaters who have taken a boating safety course are less likely to be involved in an accident. In addition, two-thirds of all fatal boating accident victims drowned; and of those, 90 percent were not wearing a life jacket. The Coast Guard urges all boaters, whether as an operator or passenger, to take a boating safety course and to always wear your life jacket,” he said.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary provides boater education to the boating public. For more information about Coast Guard Auxiliary boater education course go to In addition to boater education courses the Auxiliary also offers free Vessel Safety Checks. (