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OUNCE OF EDUCATION; BOATERS URGED TO OPERATE SAFELY.

Byline: Orith Goldberg Staff Writer

The growing popularity of Jet Skis, Sea Doos and other personal watercraft has changed the character of boating at area lakes, prompting pleas from officials who want riders educated before they take the controls.

Riders too often treat the watercraft like toys and take inappropriate risks, said Mike Coash, aquatic manager at Castaic Lake.

``These folks don't understand that there are rules in place and when you are out there spinning around, not paying attention and speeding, people run into one another,'' he said.

Playfulness and inexperience cause most mishaps, he said. The remedy is knowledge.

``I'd like to see (people) first try and acquire some form of education to learn about boating legislation,'' he said.

Doug West, Parks and Recreation manager at Lake Piru, said that since boating laws have made it a crime to drive a boat under the influence of alcohol, there has been a substantial decrease in alcohol consumption at the lake.

While Jet Skis and other vessels under 12 feet are not allowed at Lake Piru because of high wind conditions, officials still keep a watchful eye out for alcohol-related boating mishaps, which occur once or twice a year, West said.

And while boaters seem to be laying off the liquor, West said at least 90 percent of drownings at Lake Piru are alcohol-related.

``People get into the water who don't know how to swim,'' he said. ``We've had people jump out of boats and not come up.''

West said there have been no drownings at Lake Piru in the last 1-1/2 years. About two years ago, there were five, he said.

``It's been really sporadic,'' he said.

At Lake Pyramid, about 25 miles north of Santa Clarita, incidents often ensue when people borrow personal watercraft, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Steve Dolan said.

``They take off with little or no experience and training,'' he said.

Since 1995, there have been four fatalities at Lake Pyramid. One death occurred in 1996 when a man who had been drinking did a handstand on the bow of a boat, Dolan said. The man apparently fell into the water and was hit in the head by the boat.

Lake Pyramid is patrolled by three deputies on weekdays, six on weekends. During peak periods such as holiday weekends, two U.S. Coast Guard boats join the patrols.

Alcohol is prohibited at Castaic Lake under county ordinance, Coash said, adding that most people comply.

Boat operators seen with alcohol are taken to the launch pad, and California Highway Patrol officers are called to determine if the boaters are drunk. If so, they face arrest, Coash said.

Looking at the years since personal watercraft have become popular, Coash recalls three fatalities - a hit-and-run that killed a 51-year-old Glendora man; a 1992 crash that resulted in the death of a 42-year-old Foster City woman; and a collision involving two sisters.

Dolan recalled a recent incident Lake Pyramid involving a collision between a personal watercraft and a boat because the two were too close. One of the operators, Justin Melton, 24, of Northridge, suffered severe cuts from the propeller of the boat and is recovering, officials said.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

PHOTO (1--Color--Ran in SAC and AV Editions only) Officials want personal watercraft riders to undergo training before hitting the water.

(2--Ran in Valley Edition only) A group of boaters riding personal watercraft head toward the launch ramp Saturday afternoon.

(3--Ran in SAC Edition only) Personal watercraft riders prepare to head out on Castaic Lake.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 11, 1999
Words:595
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