Jack Wathey, left, and Larry Emery, blocked by the lift framework, help Frank Charles put his boat into the water at River View Yacht Club yesterday morning. The three say that the water level of Lake Erie is the best that they have seen in years.
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Despite gas prices hovering at about $2 a gallon, Ohio and Michigan officials predict a surge of boating activity during the season's unofficial start this Memorial Day weekend.
This holiday weekend is second in boating popularity only to the Fourth of July. In Ohio and Michigan, which have more boaters than most other states, spirits this year may have risen with the water levels.
Lake Erie is up five inches from its level in May of last year, while Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are up seven inches, according to the Army Corps of Engineers' Detroit District Office.
Van Snider, president of the Michigan Boating Industry Association, said the weather plays a significant role in the success of an industry that is important to both Ohio, which ranked eighth with 418,300 registered watercraft, and Michigan, which ranked first in the nation last year for total number of registered watercraft at 957,000.
"As soon as the sun comes out and things warm up, people are down at the marinas and the dealerships," he said.
Harry Burroughs, owner of Burroughs Marine Inc. in Clyde, Ohio, said sales have been surprisingly high recently. Despite what he called recent "atrocious weather" and high fuel prices, Mr. Burroughs estimated his business has sold 40 boats this year - about 25 percent over last year's sales at this time.
"We're looking forward to one of our better years, even with the gas prices," Mr. Burroughs said. "[Boaters are] going to be out this weekend, and they're going to be out in full force."
Recreational boating contributes $1.7 billion to Ohio's
economy each year, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources, and a 2003 survey conducted by Michigan State University revealed that boating generated $2.24 billion for Michigan's economy in 2002, Mr. Snider said.
Annually, about 3.2 million Ohio residents go boating, said John Wisse, an information officer at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft.
Mr. Snider estimated about 4 to 5 million Michigan residents take to the water each year.
For many of these people, safety is a concern. Last year, 19 Ohio residents died in boating related accidents, while Michigan had 29 deaths. Nationwide, 750 fatalities were reported in 2002, the most recent year available.
An Ohio law that took effect in 2000 forbids people born on or after Jan. 1, 1982, to operate vessels powered by more than 10 horsepower unless they successfully complete a boating safety course authorized by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators or pass a test approved by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
As a result, the number of young people - and their parents - taking a boating safety course with the Toledo Power Squadron has increased, said Felicia Evans, the group's executive officer.
Free courses also are available through the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Toledo Power Squadron, a boating enthusiasts' organization, offers safety courses and makes frequent stops at marinas to perform free vessel safety checks.
People who pass the inspection receive a sticker for their watercraft.
The group has increased its efforts this week in conjunction with National Safe Boating Week. Mrs. Evans said all nine of the squadron's examiners will be out inspecting boats this weekend.
Mrs. Evans said some boaters elect to take a safety course because successful graduates receive an insurance discount.
Bob Woods, owner of Harrison Marina, 3840 N. Summit St., said that boaters who pass the inspection benefit from the group's efforts.
"If the Coast Guard sees you've had a safety check," he said, "they're much less likely to stop you."
In response to the weekend's popularity, all Ohio watercraft patrol officers will monitor the state's waterways during the next few days, said Mr. Wisse.
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