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2018's Boating Deaths In NC Were Highest Since 1990

Last year was the deadliest since 1990 for boaters on North Carolina's lakes and waterways. State and local law enforcement officials are increasing patrols and pushing safety this holiday weekend, as the summer boating season begins.

Thirty-five people died in boating accidents statewide in 2018, the most since 1990 when 37 people died. That's according to data released this month by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Twenty-nine of those who died were not wearing life vests.

"You can get in a boat and you seem to leave your brain at home, because there just hasn't been over the years that many rules and regulations pertaining to boating," said Larry Meddock, chairman of the U.S. Water Sports Industry Association, based in Orlando, Florida.

Meddock spoke on a dock at Ramsey Creek Park on Lake Norman, during a safety briefing hosted by the Cornelius Police Department Lake Patrol.

Meddock said many boaters seem oblivious to the rules of the water, from wearing life jackets to not making large wakes near shores and docks.

In the Charlotte area last year, one person died on Lake Wylie and two people died on Lake Norman.  

Cornelius Lake Patrol Sgt. Matthew Figaro
Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Cornelius Lake Patrol Sgt. Matthew Figaro

Cornelius Lake Patrol Sgt. Matthew Figaro said some boating safety problems are common: 

"Kids with no life jackets, over-intoxication, the unawareness of rules, the wake violations — you know those are the typical things that we address every day," Figaro said.  

The number of accidents has been lower in recent years compared with the 1990s.  There were 192 boating accidents in 2018 and 117 in 2017, compared with 198 in 1990. That's despite a big jump in the number of registered boats (275,000 in 1990 vs. 358,000 in 2018). Better education may be a factor, Figaro said.

State law says anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988, must complete an approved boater education course. Meanwhile, North Carolina strengthened its drinking while boating rules with Sheyenne's Law in 2016. That law made it a felony — instead of a misdemeanor — to kill or seriously injure someone with a boat while under the influence. It’s named for Sheyenne Marshall, a Concord teenager killed by a drunken boater on Lake Norman July Fourth weekend 2015.

Other advice for boaters this weekend: Appoint a designated driver who won't drink, and a water-watcher who isn't texting, fishing, or socializing.