Commentary by State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)
Although summer is half over, there are still four months left in Maryland's boating season. To date, the boating season has claimed ten lives, one more than last year. The Department of Natural Resources are hopeful that the recreational boating death toll does not reach the 2005 toll of 14, the highest rate in five years. Maryland boating fatalities peaked in 1979 at 37.
Nothing inflates a person's belief in his weekend navigational skills like a few beers. The combination of sun with friends and families having fun onboard and basic boating caution is carried off with the first warm breeze. All too often little or no thought is given to having a compass or radio onboard or for that matter, mapping out the trip, or checking the weather. A check list of required safety equipment is posted on the Department of Natural Resources Web site.
As for the boat passengers, usually they feel so unthreatened that they forget or refuse to wear a life jacket. If they've had a few beers and are unlucky enough to fall off the boat, they are usually completely disoriented as well as intoxicated. This is a recipe for tragedy. But there's something about the water, the boat and a wonderful summer day that makes usually prudent people forget caution and good sense.
To our credit, Maryland was the first state to require boaters to pass a boating safety test. The law applies to anyone born after July 1, 1979 and can be taken on the Department of Natural Resources Web site.
Most states are stricter than Maryland about requiring that life jackets be worn by boaters.
Most other states require that life jackets must be worn by boaters under 12 years of age. Maryland law requires that those younger than 7 wear jackets or other floatation device on a boat 21 feet or shorter. Natural Resources Police Captain Robert Davis has stated that Maryland is in the process of raising the life-jacket requirement to age 13.
According to the U. S. Coast Guard, 90% of boating accident victims were not wearing a life jacket. Statistically, 80% of all deaths relating to boating accidents could be prevented by wearing a life jacket. Boaters should regard wearing the life jacket as important as wearing a seat belt in a motor vehicle. However, few do.
It should also be noted that many of the same people who would not dare to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol have few qualms about drinking while operating a boat. In Maryland, the same laws that apply to motor vehicle drunk driving also apply to drunk boating.
Piloting a boat while under the influence of alcohol is every bit as lethal as drunk driving. According to Coast Guard statistics, nationwide in 2007, drunk boating caused 391 known recreational boating accidents, 145 known deaths and 341 known injuries.
Boats are not motor vehicles. Piloting a boat should never be confused with driving a car. Boats are far less stable and more difficult to maneuver than automobiles. Both require different skills. But both require the operator's full concentration and concern for safety.
Here's wishing you happy and safe boating on Maryland waters.