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Record Editorial: Boating-injury study full of surprises

A study on boating-related injuries turned up some surprising findings.

For one, it's not alcohol that is responsible for most of the injuries -- it's just careless behavior.

The study also revealed a hidden boating hazard that might be contributing to more accidents and drownings than previously realized -- carbon monoxide from boat engines that can lead to unconsciousness and drowning.

Speeding and inattentiveness were by far the main causes of injuries on the water, according to Karie Pearce, a trauma and critical care outreach nurse with trauma services at Hennepin County Medical Center.

"It's the jumping off the tube onto the other kids. It's coming up close to the dock to splash your friends," she said. "Those fun activities actually can cause serious injury. Those kinds of injuries, to me, are always tragic."

Hennepin County Medical Center was one of 59 hospitals that collected data on 908 emergency-room patients from 2001 to 2005, according to a story by Anne Polta in the West Central Tribune newspaper of Willmar.

Among the findings:

n Water skiing and tubing injuries accounted for almost one-third of the trips to the emergency room.

n Falling overboard accounted for another 30 percent of injuries.

n Excessive speed and operator inattention were the biggest contributing factors, followed by operator inexperience.

n Sixty percent of boating-related injuries happened during daylight hours, between noon and 6 p.m. The peak day of the week was Sunday.

n Of the drownings that occurred during the four-year study period, 58 percent involved victims who were wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device.

The higher the speed, the more severe the injuries tended to be. Once those waterskiing or tubing behind a boat hit 20 miles an hour, the speed was enough to start breaking bones. Stay under that mark.

Especially startling, Polta reported, is the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning -- a danger that's been little-studied and that most boaters don't even know about.

Exposure to carbon monoxide is often highest near the rear of a boat that has its motor idling, and down by the waterline.

Boaters now are advised not to swim near the back of a boat or personal watercraft until the engine has been shut off for at least 15 minutes, to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure.

Boaters also shouldn't idle the engine while people are sitting near the rear of the boat.