Watercraft fatality raises safety concerns



Water scooter fatalities have decreased by more than 35 percent nationwide since 2012, but state rangers and personal watercraft dealers warn this past weekend’s death at Thurmond Lake is a harsh reminder of the dangers of these machines.

A 45-year-old woman was killed Sunday running into a tree. McCormick County Deputy Coroner Chris Doolittle said there will be no autopsy, but a toxicology report will be conducted.

In Georgia, personal watercrafts have been involved in four of 27 recreational boating accidents this year. That 15-percent rate matches 2013, when personal watercrafts were involved in 16 of Georgia’s 103 recreational boating accidents, said Capt. Mark Padgett, region supervisor for Augusta’s 22-county natural resources district.

Nationally, 36 people were killed and 601 injured on personal watercraft in 2013, according to U.S. Coast Guard recreational boating statistics. In 2012, 58 people were killed on personal watercrafts, up from 44 a year earlier, data shows.

David Heath, general manager of Street and Trail Motorsports in Evans, said many accidents are caused through unsafe use.

“The first thing to remember while riding personal watercraft is to use common sense,” Heath said. “Once you put people on a Jet Ski, boat, motorcycle or all-terrain vehicle, there is always going to be someone who will try to mimic the stunts they see on TV.”

Concerns about water scooter safety grew after a 2012 fatality. On July 8, 2012, 11-year-old Kile Glover, stepson of seven-time Grammy winner Usher, was left brain dead after a personal watercraft accident on Lake Lanier and died two weeks later when he was taken off life support.

In November, Gov. Nathan Deal signed the “Kile Glover Boat Education Law” in honor of him. The act increased the age requirement for a child to wear a life jacket while on a moving vessel from 10 to 13 years old.

Also, effective July 1, it requires anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, and who has turned 16 years old since that date, to complete a boating education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources before operating any motorized vessel on state waters.

This portion of the law further states that anyone 12 to 15 years old may only operate watercraft if the person is accompanied by an adult 18 or older who has completed a boater education course.

“Courtesy is a major component,” Padgett said. “On the water, there’s no stop lights or traffic lanes.”

But targeting youths may not be the complete solution. Half of all personal watercraft fatalities involved riders ages 30 to 59, with a third of all incidents resulting from “operator inexperience,” according to 2013 Coast Guard statistics.

Heath has ridden Jet Skis since they were first introduced by Kawasaki in 1972, and said he is not surprised that operator inexperience is the primary contributing factor for fatalities.

He said personal watercrafts are typically passed down through the 1.3 million American families the National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates owns a Jet Ski.

“Most people who ride today have grown up on these since the 1980s and never taken any kind of safety course, other than what their parents taught them,” said Heath, who taught his son how to wake board behind a Jet Ski at age 4. “Once they leave our parking lot, they are (pretty) much on their own.”

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