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Crowded Waterways Can Make for Dangerous Summer Fun

Aired July 4, 2000 - 2:35 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Millions of Americans are taking to the water this Fourth of July holiday, crowding the nation's lakes and rivers. The problem is especially acute in Michigan, home to nearly one million registered boaters.

As CNN's Ed Garsten reports now, that congestion can turn dangerous, especially when boaters don't heed basic safety rules.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a floating traffic jam; according to the U.S. Coast Guard, over 12 million speedboats, personal watercraft, ski boats, all vying for space that's rapidly evaporating on the nation's waterways.

GARY MITCHELL, MICHIGAN ASSN. OF INSURANCE AGENTS: What we are seeing, increasingly, is what we call weekend boaters, who are sharing these inland lakes with swimmers, with jet skis, and with water- skiers. And when you put all of these people together in a closed are, bad things are going to happen.

GARSTEN: Bad things like this: nine people injured when two power boats collided earlier this week on a lake in Michigan, the state with the most registered boats in the nation, about 989,000. So far this year, at least 10 people have died in boating accidents in Michigan. The number of fatalities has increased steadily in the state over the last four years as boat registrations rise, while nationally, the latest available figures show boating deaths are rising, then leveling off slightly.

The main cause of death?

LT. LYLE BELKNAP, MICHIGAN DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Nationwide, there's about 80 percent of the people that are involved in boating fatalities are a result of drowning.

GARSTEN (on camera): The U.S. Coast Guard says, in 1998, 574 people drowned as a result of boating accidents nationwide, but the Guard estimates that, of those, at least 509 victims might have been saved had they only been wearing one of these, a personal flotation device.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a type what?

AUDIENCE: Four.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Type four. When do you have to have one of these? Sixteen foot and up, you have to have one of these.

GARSTEN (voice-over): Six- to eight-hour boater safety classes are recommended before anyone attempts to hit the waterways. Uneducated boaters rate as the top contributing factor in fatal accidents nationwide, far above alcohol. Some don't even know the basics of how to operate their own boats.

DEP. MATT KARCHNICK, OAKLAND COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT.: We stop a lot of people, and I ask them basic questions: "Do you know how to operate this machine" or very simply, "pull up along side of our boat and stop the power, or kill the power," and a lot of people don't know how to do that.

GARSTEN: As the nation's lakes become more congested with bigger, faster boats, and the rising popularity of high-speed personal watercraft, authorities are putting out a big SOS to boaters to slow down, learn the rules, wear life jackets, or risk leaving tragedy in their wakes.

Ed Garsten, CNN, Waterford, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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