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To be on the safe side, consider boating realities


We are fortunate, those of us who use boats for recreational purposes in Maryland. We have a couple of thousand miles of tidal rivers and hundreds of miles of non-tidal waters to explore and enjoy -- whether under sail, engine power or in rowboat, canoe or kayak.

The Chesapeake Bay, rivers, canals and creeks are a part of our heritage -- whether we are fishermen, sailors, water skiers and jet skiers or river runners.

Memorial Day weekend traditionally kicks off the boating season, although many of us have been on the water since daytime temperatures hit the upper 40s or lower 50s.

Memorial Day also kicks us into the lazy days of late spring and summer, when a day on the water becomes especially attractive and a cold brew seems to fit as comfortably in one's hand as a tiller or wheel.

Next week (June 6-12) has been proclaimed Safe Boating Week in Maryland, and before filling one hand with a Natty Boh or a Heineken and the other with the wheel, take a few minutes to consider some sobering facts.

* In the past 20 years, the number of boats in Maryland has increased 165 percent to 190,182 in 1991.

* Last year there were 342 reported boating accidents in this state, in which 160 people were injured and 18 people died.

* More than 90 percent of deaths in water-related accidents were from drowning and 80 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets.

* This year there have been four boating deaths. At least two of those involved alcohol, and none of the four was wearing a life jacket.

* More than half of the boating deaths in the state last year involved alcohol, and during the past 10 years more than 85 percent of boating deaths have been by drowning.

Can't happen to you, right?

Couldn't happen to the two Cleveland Indians pitchers who were killed in a boating accident earlier this year in Florida, either.

The Department of Natural Resources has compiled more statistics and health facts that might help drive the point home.

* Nearly 1,000 people die in boating accidents every year across the country. Of those, 90 percent drown, making drowning the No. 3 cause of accidental death.

* More than 50 percent of boating accidents nationwide involve alcohol.

* Four hours of exposure to boat motion, noise, sun and wind produces a "boater's hypnosis," which slows reaction time.

* A drunken person whose head is submersed can lose his bearings and swim down rather than up. This condition is called Caloric Labrynthitis and may explain why even good swimmers can drown when drunk.

* Intoxication diminishes reaction time, peripheral vision, focus, depth perception and time and distance judgment. At night, an intoxicated boater may be unable to distinguish red from green, the two main colors that mark boats under way and channel markers.

* The great majority of boating accidents occur on sunny days, not in the dark of night.

This year, limit your consumption of alcohol, have adults fit their life jackets when they get on board and wear them or keep them handy, have children wear properly sized life jackets at all times, and save gas by resisting the urge to throttle up and blast through the fleet at the channel entrance.

Learn the rules of safe boating, and play by them.


Minimum age: 14, with all operators born after July 1, 1972, required to earn and carry a Boater Safety Education Certificate.

Life jackets: Every person on board must wear an approved personal flotation device.

Hours of operation: Between sunrise and sunset.

Type of craft: Self-circling or one equipped with a kill switch that attaches to the operator.

Speed restrictions: In addition to all posted limits, a speed of 6 mph or less is required in Maryland waters when within 100 feet of people in the water, boats, shorelines, wharfs, pilings, bridges or other structures. In the Atlantic Ocean, the same limits apply, but surf fishermen are to be allowed a 300-foot buffer.

Water skiers: Personal watercraft may tow skiers only if they seat three people (driver, observer and skier when out of the water) and have been manufactured specifically as ski craft.


Minimum age: Drivers of ski boats and the required observer must be at least 12 years old, and the driver must have earned a Boater Safety Education Certificate if born after July 1, 1972.

Hours of operation: Between sunrise and sunset.

Life jackets: Skiers must wear approved personal flotation devices.

Tow lines: A maximum of 75 feet is allowed.

Area restrictions: In addition to posted no skiing areas, the boat must keep at least 100 feet from shorelines, wharves, jetties, piers, pilings and other structures, passing boats or people in the water. In non-tidal waters, a minimum buffer zone of 50 feet must be maintained.

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