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Coast Guard: Fatal boating accidents in 2003 decline

MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, (609) 463-6712, E-Mail/Press of Atlantic City

Fatal boating accidents are on the decline even as more people take to the water for recreation, the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday.

The 2003 annual report showed 703 people were killed on the water, in keeping with a 12-year decline in recreational boating deaths.

"People on boats are going out to have a good time. They don't consider themselves at risk or any need to prepare before they go out," said Jo Calkin, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard in Washington.

The report found there were 47 fewer fatalities last year compared to 2002. Meanwhile, there were 12.8 million registered boats on the water or nearly 2 million more than just 12 years ago.

New Jersey reported 17 fatal accidents, a slight increase over the five-year average.

Calkin said it was difficult to pinpoint the reason behind the nationwide decline in fatalities. The low numbers are statistically insignificant.

"Our hope is we have made a difference in people's behavior," she said. "Maybe more people are conscious of their behavior. More people might be wearing their life jackets."

There were fewer personal-watercraft fatalities than in past years, Calkin said. Boat dealers and rental agents were doing a better job of educating customers and vacationers, she said.

More people died in rowboats (58) than on personal watercraft (57) in 2003.

According to the report, the Coast Guard recorded 5,438 recreational boating accidents in 2003, a 10-year low. Alcohol was involved in one-third of the fatal accidents, Calkin said.

"It's habitual. Beer and the boat," she said. "But it's not a good place to drink. We advocate zero tolerance on the water."

Four out of five people who die in boating accidents each year never took a boating-safety course, she said. But the Coast Guard and other boating groups have been stressing boater safety with free equipment checks of boats and lessons on safe boating, she said.

"It's boater education," Joe Skutlin said.

He is the flotilla commander for the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Ocean City.

"We have six flotillas. All of them are active in teaching boating safety. I think the message is getting across," he said
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