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Inexperience cited as deaths on local waterways continue

As summer comes to a close, deaths on local waterways have continued this year.

Just within the past nine days, two men lost their lives in separate incidents while riding personal watercraft and a fisherman died after a boat capsized. A 51-year-old Lackawanna man died Aug. 26 after he was knocked off  his watercraft and into the path of a cabin cruiser off Niawanda Park, while a 50-year-old German national died the same day after being found floating unconscious near Crystal Beach with a personal watercraft running in circles nearby. The fisherman died the day before when his boat overturned in 5- to 7-foot waves on Lake Ontario.

Those fatalities were just three of many incidents that were reported this summer.

Officials who patrol local waters, such as the Niagara River and lakes Erie and Ontario, said the number of on-the-water incidents this year was consistent with previous years as inexperienced boaters and personal watercraft drivers fail to follow safety rules.

There were three water-related fatalities in the town of Hamburg this year, including the death of a kitesurfer in choppy Lake Erie on Aug. 15, said Ron Klimowicz, chief of operations for the Hamburg Water Rescue Unit.

He said the deaths were caused by improper boat handling or because people were not wearing life jackets.

“This year was very unusual,” he said. “Three is considered very high volume for this area.”

The City of Tonawanda Police Department said it received around 31 water-related calls this year, which is the average number it gets from January through August.

The department watches over the Niagara River, the Erie Canal and Ellicott Creek, and has a team of trained staff that patrol the waters to look for any boating,  Jet Ski or other violations to ensure safety.

Fredric Foels, captain of patrol for the City of Tonawanda department, said many of the reports involve people engaging in reckless behavior, like improper boat driving or boating while intoxicated.

“There isn’t a single factor that causes accidents,” he said. “But when you’re on a boat or a Jet Ski, you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings and who you are sharing the water with."

Lt. Junior Grade Kyle Maxey, command duty officer at Coast Guard Section Buffalo, said people tend to underestimate the dangers of the water. He warned watercraft drivers to always be wary of their surroundings.

Maxey said Coast Guard stations are working with local mariners when stopping their vessels by inspecting to see whether their watercraft includes life jackets, flares, audible signaling devices and other required safety equipment.

He said people should also understand that the temperature of the water is different than the air temperature, and they should dress appropriately when entering the water.

“People should be more aware about the temperatures of the water,” he said. “Right now the water is around 70 to 72 degrees, but anything below 70 is considered cold.”

This year’s summer was hotter and more humid than average, with more than 80 days reaching above-average temperatures since May 1.

Aaron Reynolds, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Cheektowaga, said although there were no significant weather conditions this year that were different than in previous years, he thinks the higher temperatures could have resulted in more boat traffic.

“As far as the weather is concerned, maybe there was just more people out in the waters because of the hot weather,” he said.

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