Is post-pandemic fueling spate of fatal boating accidents?

Columbus — Could the rash of fatal boating accidents this spring be an after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I posed that question to Lt. Dawn Powell, central Ohio supervisor for the Ohio DNR Division of Watercraft.

“It’s still wreaking havoc,” she said of the pandemic.

Some of the blame goes to the many novices who took up boating, kayaking, paddleboarding and other water-related recreation to avoid being stuck in the house during the pandemic.

At the same time interest in boating soared, pandemic rules kept ODNR from holding as many of its free boating education courses as usual. That led to a rash of folks on the water who did not know the rules and proper procedures.

One example Powell noted was a fatal paddleboarding accident at Alum Creek State Park where two individuals were trying to ride a paddleboard and one fell off and drowned. They didn’t realize paddleboards are only built to carry one person, she said.

Powell continues to stress the importance of lifejackets – something that might have helped in the Alum Creek situation – as well as boating education.

While the number of recent accidents is not extremely high, it is concerning, she said.

In Ohio, most boating fatalities occur in the spring and late fall, she noted.

Because the lake at Alum Creek is so close to Columbus, it draws a lot of users – many of whom are Hispanic and don’t speak English.

Communicating rules and procedures to these folks is not only difficult. Sometimes it is impossible, Powell added.

“We need to tackle the language barrier,” she said. “We need to hold courses in other languages besides English.”

Now that the pandemic is lessening, boating education classes are at full attendance.

But there are other ways to learn without attending an eight-hour, in-person class. Boaters can learn on their own time with a home study packet available for free through the division’s website, www.dnr.state.oh.us.

Online courses are also available from a variety of sources and usually cost about $30, Powell said.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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