As Maryland takes part in National Safe Boating Week (May 18-25), Natural Resources Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Albert has a number of suggestions and warnings for those planning to be on the state's waterways this spring and summer.
•Wear your life jacket and make sure it fits. While Friday was "Wear Your Life Jacket To Work Day," it really kicks in with the start of the boating season and its first big weekend leading up to Memorial Day. "We like to remind people that this might be their first time out this year on the water, and we want them to get their life jackets out," Albert said. "Make sure they work and know where they're located in an emergency situation. Make sure they fit. Especially with kids because they're growing."
•Clean out your boats thoroughly before taking them on the water for the first time. "Most of them are stored outdoors during the winter," Albert said. "Mice can get in them, or the life jackets can get dry-rotted. Make sure your blowers are working for the compartments of the engine if it's an inboard-outboard. We recommend to check all that and make sure everything is operating properly. At certain locations throughout the state we do vessel safety inspections. Make sure your fire extinguishers are fully charged and in proper working order."
•Since there have been two boating fatalities already this year, some people don't fully understand how the waterways can be as dangerous under certain conditions as the beltways running around Baltimore and Washington. "I tend to agree," Albert said. "They kind of take that boating for granted as a recreational vessel. It's not like a vehicle that you drive every day. If your seat belt isn't working, you usually know it pretty quick. Putting on a life jacket is not the first thing you think of when you get in a boat especially if you have a visitor that would not normally be on a vessel, not know how to put it on and fit properly."
•Though many envision being able to bring a cooler on deck filled with alcoholic beverages, the same laws that govern the highway and street driving regarding alcohol apply on the water. "They parallel the driving on the highway, .08's the limit, you're not allowed to operate while intoxicated or under the influence," Albert said.
•Make sure that you have the proper documentation to drive the boat. "You have to have a boating safety certificate if you were born after July 1, 1972," Albert said. "That's slowly catching on. Everyone out there pretty much needs to have one. It wouldn't hurt to get one [even if you were born before that day]. The only minimum age we have is for personal watercraft [such as a jet ski], which is 16. But you can be under 16 to go through a boater's safety course and operate a boat."
•The one piece of advice Albert would give boaters is, "Respect the water and know where the life jackets are and make sure they fit properly."