Editorial: Summer warning — be safe on land and water

06/30/2017 5:55 AM |

Summer is here in all its glory. With it come all the things that make this time of year on the North Fork so terrific — along with the associated dangers, on land and on water.

Perhaps boating is at the top of the list of joys that can turn horribly bad.

In the past, when we have used this space to promote safety on the waters around the North Fork, we’ve noted local boating accidents — and even deaths.

New York State and the U.S. Coast Guard have reported that recreational boating incidents claimed the lives of 22 people in the state in 2016 — up from 16 statewide in 2015. Seven of those 22 deaths occurred on Long Island. And in April of this year, Dr. Richard Melucci, an anesthesiologist at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, died in Long Island Sound after falling off his 25-foot boat near Milford, Conn.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary marked National Safe Boating Week May 20-26, using the occasion to promote the use of life jackets every time people step into boats and head out into the bay, ocean or Sound.

In a press release last month, the Auxiliary cited nationwide statistics: “Each year, on average, 700 people die in boating-related accidents …” The hard — and avoidable — truth followed: “… 8 out of 10 victims were not wearing a life jacket.”

Most of us who are on boats in the summer have probably seen vessels with far too many people aboard — in some cases including very young children. Recall the Fourth of July 2012 in Oyster Bay, when a 34-foot vessel loaded with 27 people out to watch the fireworks capsized, killing three children: a 12-year-old boy and two girls, ages 8 and 11.

Overcrowding was later determined to be a factor in the boat’s overturning, and one person familiar with the boat said it could safely carry only eight passengers. On a night of celebration and fireworks, this boat carried more than three times that limit.

We count on the Southold and Riverhead Police Department’s marine patrols to keep boaters safe, as officers on land do every day. On the North Fork, wineries and breweries are popular summer tourist draws. They are also a source of worry for town officials, police and bay constables whose job is to patrol our streets, roads and waterways to keep us all safe.

Ostensibly the wineries are offering wine tastings; but with food, music, games and long afternoons in the sun for patrons, it looks more like wine drinking. After a third or fourth “taste,” can you really detect a hint of blueberries in that wine? Doubtful.

We are a narrow peninsula with saltwater on three sides. Our roads are mostly old country roads. You should enjoy the water if you live or vacation here. You also have to respect the water, and be smart and safe on it.

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