The 30 Oregon drownings in the last six weeks are the highest number of drownings local river-watchers have seen in such a short time.
”We’ve had an unusual number of people drowning this summer,” said Ashley Massey, the public affairs specialist at the Oregon State Marine Board.
She said many of the drownings are due to lower-than-usual water temperatures and higher-than-normal water levels. In combination with the heat, these unusual conditions can cause muscle spasms, and because they do not wear life vests, many people have drowned.
In almost all of the deaths seen during June and July, the victims had not been wearing floatation devices, Massey said. From teenagers to adults, people are not protecting themselves from the dangers of the river, according to Massey.
Alcohol is to blame for 30 percent of boating fatalities each year in Oregon, which is less than the national average of 50 to 70 percent, according to the marine board. Massey said 75 percent of accidents that occur when a person is under the influence of alcohol on the water do not involve collisions. People more commonly lose their balance, slip off docks or boats and fall into the water.
Massey said another common fatality occurs because of an on-the-water experience that is similar to drunkenness. After hours on the water, the body experiences what the marine board calls “boater’s hypnosis,” where the body becomes fatigued and loopy from waves, sun and boating. This can occur after being on the water just four hours and can greatly increase one’s ability to swim or to efficiently operate a boat or jet ski.
”The combined effect of the wind, the motion of the waves, and the sun really fatigues the body,” said Massey. “If this is combined with alcohol, the effects are really amplified.”
Many people have also lost their lives or been injured this year while kite tubing. The Army Corps of Engineers outlawed the practice of this newly introduced extreme sport on Oregon’s reservoirs on August 2.
Kite tubing is nearly identical to normal inner tubing, with an individual riding on a tube while being pulled behind a boat. Kite tubing differs in that, as the boat accelerates, the kite lifts the tube off the water up to 30 feet in the air.
Once in the air, these tubes become difficult to control. Massey said there have been two major accidents reported already in Oregon this summer.
”They behave just like a kite,” she said. “With a minor wind shift, the tube can spiral downward very hard.” The design that has caused the most accidents, the Wego manufactured by SportsStuff Inc., was recalled in July, according to Massey.
A person operating a boat of any kind while intoxicated, even motor-less, could receive a BUII, up to a $6,250 fine and one year in jail. People must also complete boating safety courses and can have their boat registration suspended for as many as three years.
The marine board now requires that boat operators carry an Oregon Boater Education Card on board. Beginning in 2003, boat drivers 30 and under were required to possess a license. The age rose to 40 in 2004, 45 in 2005 and will reach 50 50 by the end of this year. By 2008 everyone 70 and under will be required to have their license, and by 2009 that rule will apply to everyone operating a boat.