Boating incidents a bigger concern on holiday weekend around Sewickley, region

People ride on a personal watercraft along the Ohio River near the Chestnut Street boat launch in Sewickley Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.
People ride on a personal watercraft along the Ohio River near the Chestnut Street boat launch in Sewickley Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.
Photo by Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Bobby Cherry
| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

As boaters from across the region prepare to spend time on the Ohio River over Labor Day weekend, the Coast Guard and members of its auxiliary will patrol waters in an effort to keep people safe.

Norman Arbes of the Coast Guard Auxiliary said he expects the rivers this weekend to be full of recreational boaters.

An increase in boater traffic means the number of boating-related accidents and fatalities could rise, he said.

The Labor Day weekend accounts for almost 17 percent of all boating-related accidents and deaths nationwide, Arbes said.

Not only is it the unofficial end to summer, but boaters haven't had decent waters to be out on this season, he said.

“Up until mid-July, we've had the crummiest water I can remember,” said Arbes, of Moon.

“No matter what happens up north or down south, both tributaries dump into the Ohio River.”

So weather patterns affecting areas north of Pittsburgh, such as Clarion, or points south into West Virginia can add debris to the water, he said.

Arbes said the top recommendation on safe boating is to always wear life jackets.

Statistics show 80 percent of those who die in boating incidents were not wearing life jackets, Arbes said.

Ryan Ireland is a boater who expects to be out on the Ohio River over Labor Day weekend.

The Carnegie resident spends at least two days a week on the waters — mostly fishing.

“It gets pretty busy,” Ireland said of recreational boating traffic on the Ohio River.

“Safety is very important,” said Ireland, 30, who sometimes uses boat launches in Leetsdale and Sewickley.

“With someone like me, who will be floating or stagnant,” Ireland said, other boaters can create safety concerns by speeding.

“Traffic can get heavy, and I have felt there's some people flying around with big wakes that can make me worried,” he said.

Coraopolis resident Matt Littell said speeding on the rivers bothers him.

Along with friends, the Quaker Valley High School teacher has spent about one day each week this summer on the water.

“The big thing is people going too fast near docks,” Littell said.

Arbes said too much sun, alcohol and noise can lead to boat crashes.

With an increasing number of recreational boaters, Arbes said, the Port of Pittsburgh recorded two deaths last year on the rivers — a kayaker along the Allegheny River and a Beaver County resident who was killed when the personal watercraft she was on went over the Dashields Dam in Edgeworth in May 2012.

“The number of accidents have decreased because of increased emphasis on boater education,” he said.

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408

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