Concerning water safety, the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room is that some rowing coaches in Alexandria do not confine rowers to safer water.

On the Potomac River from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to just north of the Alexandria Boathouse at Buoy No. 6, a "no wake" zone has long existed in which boats are forbidden to exceed 10 mph. The no-wake zone extends about a mile. North of Buoy No. 6, there is no speed restriction, and one is likely to encounter a range of boat speeds in that area, from sailboat pace to speedboats' 100 mph.

Rowing shells sit low to the water and are hard to see except at close range. Boaters don't expect to see crew shells in the unlimited speed zone and often must take evasive action to avoid an accident. In the no-wake zone, the rowers are relatively safe.

The site of coach John Steve Catilo's drowning [Metro, June 26] is well north of the no-wake zone. While I've seen no evidence that this issue contributed to his death, this episode reminds us about this basic safety hazard.

Last fall, the office of the D.C. Harbormaster sent a letter to the athletic director of T.C. Williams High School recommending that rowers stay within the no-wake zone, given the dangers north of it. From my observations, that request continues to be ignored.

H. JAY SPIEGEL

Mount Vernon

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I would like to echo the concerns of officials regarding safety on local waterways and the ocean ["Pulling for Safety on the Water," Metro, July 1].

Like the parents of John Steve Catilo, I lost a son to drowning. My son, 20, was a lifeguard, sailing instructor and member of his college swim- ming team, but he died by drowning nonetheless.

Months before his death I encouraged him to wear a life vest when he was windsurfing. He told me that he didn't need one because if he fell off the board, it stopped, and all he had to do was get back on it. I brought up the idea of wearing a safety flotation belt, and a few days later he showed me a thin flotation safety harness he had purchased.

I remember looking at him with my fatherly expression of "Who are you trying to kid?" and seeing in response his somewhat wise grin of "See, I did what you wanted." When his body was found four days after he drowned, he was wearing that belt.

I suggest not only durable flotation jackets but a built-in watertight strobe light. Many times, as in my son's case, searches have to be suspended at dark, when by morning the person, even if he or she stayed afloat all night, might have died of complications from hypothermia.

RONALD L. VAN NEST

Davidsonville