As Anne Arundel County residents seek relief from the heat by swimming and boating at local lakes, rivers and beaches, the risk of drowning is increased renewing the importance of water and boat safety, say county and state officials.
Last year, Maryland reported six fatal boating accidents, down slightly from seven deaths in 2020. Over the last two years, an average of 150 boating accidents were reported with a third resulting in injuries, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
This year, there has already been one fatal water-related accident in Anne Arundel County.
On June 4, a boat struck a channel piling on the West River near Shady Side. All six occupants were thrown from the boat but only five were recovered. The sixth passenger was 21-year-old Nick Barton, an Anne Arundel Community College lacrosse player and Crofton native who was found deceased in the water during the search.
“The water can present its dangers but it can be even more dangerous when people are not taking proper precautions,” said Lauren Moses, public information officer for Maryland Natural Resources Police.
As the July 4th holiday approaches, the Maryland Natural Resources Police, U.S. Coast Guard, Anne Arundel County Fire Department and boating safety experts are encouraging boaters, swimmers and all waterway users to take the proper precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from the unpredictable. Their campaign includes a news conference on June 29 at Sandy Point State Park.
“Safety is our highest priority, but accidents happen faster than officers can respond, so in addition to encouraging Marylanders to take proper precautions we also offer help,” Moses said.
Boaters can download the U.S. Coast Guard app and the Maryland AccessDNR app for easy reference information on Maryland’s waterways. Here are some water safety tips:
Wear a life vest
One of the easiest ways the community can protect itself when out on the water is to wear a life vest. Often when DNR police conduct vessel stops, they find boaters not wearing life vests, Moses said.
“When things go wrong so quickly and you’re under duress it’s extremely difficult to find or put on your vest so it’s important to wear it while your on the water,” she said.
Safety experts also advise boaters to never boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, avoid distracted boating and travel at safe speeds.
In 2020, nearly half of all boating accidents involved alcohol or operating a boat under the influence.
Vessel safety checks
Boaters should get regular vessel safety checks.
Every Wednesday at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, the Natural Resources Police conduct courtesy boat examinations to make sure essential equipment like navigation lights, fire extinguishers and distress signals (flares/horns) are working properly.
Boaters should carry all required boating safety equipment such as a first aid kit, throwable life jackets, a line and a whistle.
Maintain a lookout
While on the water boaters are advised to maintain a proper lookout. Staying aware of what’s on all sides of your vessel is essential to staying safe and avoiding accidents.
Not having a proper lookout was the third-most-common cause of boating accidents in 2020, according to DNR statistics, behind excessive speed and wake.
“We’ve had at least two accident [this year] where those weren’t keeping proper lookout,” Moses said.
Keeping a watchful eye is especially true on the weekend. More than half of all boat accidents in 2020 occurred on either Saturday or Sunday, statistics show. Time of day also plays a factor as most accidents happen in the late afternoon and into the early evening when the sun begins to go down and visibility diminishes.
Have a float plan
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Before going out on the water, boaters should make a float plan and share it with a family member or friend in the event of an emergency. The plan should include a record of basic information such as your name, what you’re wearing, the color of your boat and when you plan to leave and return back to port.
The Department of Natural Resources also recommends having more than one form of communication that works when wet.
Get a Maryland Safe Boating certificate
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers a few ways to obtain a Maryland Safe Boating certificate.
Virtual Classroom: The minimum eight-hour course is typically taught by trained instructors in-person. However, due to concerns about COVID-19, the classes will be taught online this summer.
- June virtual course: June 25 and 26 from 1 to 5 p.m. on both days - Register at: https://forms.gle/Qygm6icS5PKzTWci7
- July virtual course: July 23 and 24 from 1 to 5 p.m. on both days - Register at: https://forms.gle/tDKGT6mrG5cnf7Aj6
Online: The Maryland Basic Boating Course is available online. Choose from four course options at: https://dnr.maryland.gov/nrp/pages/boatingsafety/safety_certificate.aspx
Maryland Boating Equivalency Exam: This exam was created to facilitate all potential boaters who may not be able to complete classroom or online training. The test is available by appointment only. Contact Nancy Gardner (410)-409-2998 at the Anne Arundel County testing for more information.