WASHINGTON – Falling was the most common type of accident for Chesapeake Bay boaters and falling into the water accounted for two of the three boating deaths in the area in 1996 and 1997, according to data from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The figures from the Marine Safety Information System show that the bay had the 28th-highest number of personal injury accidents out of the 122 bodies of water in the nation that were included in the report.
The Coast Guard database also showed that the bay recorded the 17th- highest number of vessel accidents out of the 162 waterways where accidents were investigated in 1996-97.
But Coast Guard officials could not say whether the incidence of injuries and accidents on the bay was out of proportion to boating traffic there — because they do not yet have a standard measure of boating activity. The Coast Guard is scheduled to begin discussions in February to rank waterways in terms of activity and safety.
Those discussions will include meetings with industry representatives. Proposals for measures of boating activity include the number of fishermen who work in a given body of water, volume of traffic or tons of fish produced.
“We have goals to reduce the number of deaths in the water,” said Cmdr. Lyle Rice, with the Office of Investigation and Analysis. The database is important, he said, “So you can see what’s happening.”
According to the database, Coast Guard investigators from Baltimore and Hampton Roads, Va., responded to 18 personal injury accidents on the bay in 1996-97. There were more than 3,000 injury accidents nationwide, 269 of them fatal.
The bay also registered 131 vessel accidents in 1996 and 1997, out of 11,385 incidents nationwide. The most common type of accident, both nationally and on the bay, was loss of vessel control, which includes loss of propulsion and loss of steering.
Most accidents nationwide involved fishing boats, which accounted for 2,359 incidents, followed by tugboats with 2,229 accidents. Cmdr. Rice said these two types of vessel face relatively few inspections and regulations, thus the high incidence of problems.
But tugboats led all other types of vessels for accidents on the bay, accounting for 36 in 1996 and 1997 and bucking the national trend. Fishing boats did not show up until fourth place, with 16 incidents.
Freighters were involved in the second-highest number of bay accidents, at 25, and large passenger ships were third with 19.