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Marine police query, warn resort boaters Memorial holiday brings one of busiest weekends


OCEAN CITY -- Cecil Decker of Baltimore was jet skiing yesterday with his 11-year-old son, Chris, when he was stopped by Maryland Natural Resources Police near 28th Street for speeding.

Mr. Decker received an oral warning from the officers.

"I do know what you're talking about," Mr. Decker said about the complaints of speeding. "But no matter how far away you are, people still complain."

Officer 1st Class Scott Richardson, one of two officers aboard the 19-foot Boston Whaler patrolling the West Ocean City Harbor, agreed.

Visitors sitting on the decks of condominiums overlooking Isle of Wight Bay find the noise from the jet skis annoying, he said, and complaints about speeding jet skiers are frequent. Jet skiers are not allowed to go faster than 6 knots within 100 feet of the condominiums dotting the shores of the bay. The officers receive the complaints over the radio on the boat.

"It's an ongoing problem," Officer Richardson said.

The Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest boating weekends of the season. But the calls yesterday were pretty much routine.

"This is a busy weekend," said Officer Richardson, a five-year veteran of the force. "We've had a lot of cloudy, rainy weather, and this is the first really nice weekend. A lot of people are out for the first time."

About 10 marine police officers are on duty on the bay throughout the holiday weekend, which has attracted about 300,000 people to the resort city.

Some 350 vessels, carrying mostly fishermen, were estimated by the officers to be on the inland bays yesterday morning. That number will climb to 1,500 to 2,000 by nightfall.

So far this weekend, only one significant boating accident occurred. On Saturday, a 20-foot powerboat capsized in the surf near 24th Street, injuring five people, none of them seriously.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol rescued the boaters -- there were seven total -- some of whom weren't wearing life jackets, officers said.

Charges against the boat operator, Thomas M. Diggs, 25, of Baltimore, who leased the boat from a local marina, are pending further investigation, Officer Richardson said.

The boating mishap was not uncommon for a holiday weekend, Officer Richardson said.

Yesterday morning, while patrolling Sinepuxent Bay and the Isle of Wight Bay, Officer Richardson and his partner, Cpl. James Bonneville, stopped several jet skiers and about a dozen boaters, mostly fisherman. Later, the officers towed three disabled boats in Assawoman Bay.

"We're not paid to be bad guys," said Corporal Bonneville, a 23-year police veteran. "We're not out here to give people a hard time."

"A lot of time we just give people warnings," Officer Richardson added.

Fishermen weren't faring so well either. Not with the marine police but with the fish.

"Any luck catching anything?" Officer Richardson or Corporal James often asked boaters with lines cast into the bay. The most oft-heard response: No.

So neither officer had to measure fish yesterday. Boaters who catch undersized fish can be fined $45 or more. While no fines were issued, the officers handed out rulers to several boaters.

"If you find anybody catching fish, come back and tell us where they're at," suggested Charles Angle, a printer from Towson who was fishing on Isle of Wight Bay.

Routinely, the officers asked to see boat registrations, life jackets and other equipment, such as fire extinguishers and horns.

The most common violations among boaters, the officers said, are speeding, catching undersized fish, lack of safety equipment and boating without proper registration.

The officers also check commercial fishing vessels and investigate boat and marine-related thefts. They also look for intoxicated boat operators.

The day before, the officers conducted Safe Waterways Through Alcohol Monitoring Patrols but found no drunken boaters.

"It's primarily a prevention measure," Corporal Bonneville said.

At least one boater -- Robert Hedges Jr. of Annapolis -- was given a breath test yesterday. He registered a .02 blood alcohol level.

Mr. Hedges, a drywall finisher, took the test in stride.

"I can understand," he said. "Safety counts. I'm just down here enjoying a little fishing."

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