With increasingly longer days and warmer temperatures, the water is calling boaters of all stripes who are looking to get that deck moving under them again. But it’s worth stopping to think about the dangers that lurk before you throw off that bow or stern line and head out across the waves.
Last June, two Montgomery County men were found dead in the Potomac River near Cobb Island. Their 13-foot boat was found still running, turning circles just a mile from the island. Maryland Natural Resources Police believed it to be an accident. They were the eighth and ninth fatalities of the season in the state at that point.
Later that year in October, Brandywine native Andrew Marshall Turner, a fisherman and a marine scientist who worked as the facilities manager at Morgan State University’s Patuxent Environment and Aquatic Research Laboratory in St. Leonard, was found dead in the waters of the Patuxent River at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum off Calvert County. He had taken a group of students out crabbing and stayed behind to finish up. He was found dead in the water hours later.
Those were only three of the 16 deaths that happened on the water last year amid 132 reported boating accidents in the state. That number of deaths was a 167% increase from the year before, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The first two were found without life jackets — it’s unclear what happened with the beloved Turner, who was an experienced waterman — which surely reduced their chances of survival once they found themselves in the water.
“There are a few boater safety tips that stand out above all others and that would help us reduce those statistics in Maryland: Wear your life jacket and have an appropriate number of life jackets available for passengers on your vessel,” wrote DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio in a press release last week. State law requires that they be worn by anyone younger than 13 on boats less than 21 feet in length at all times while underway. It’s certainly a good idea for everyone to wear them on any size boat. And to work as intended, they should fit properly.
To reinforce that point about life jackets, DNR is celebrating Wear your Life Jacket to Work Day today, May 17. Most of us probably can’t or won’t do that, but we absolutely should all wear a life jacket on our play-on-the-water days.
The secretary also pointed out that those born after July 1, 1972, need to get certified to operate a boat. And everyone who gets behind the helm should know the rules of navigation.
And, of course, no one should be operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
But there’s at least one other safety tip that seems almost too simple and logical: Check the weather before you leave the dock or shore.
In late 2016, a tragic boat accident on the Potomac River off St. Mary’s County left three fishermen dead, one each from Hughesville, Mechanicsville and White Plains. A fourth was found alive clinging to the overturned hull of a 32-foot fishing boat they had taken out. Bad weather had caused the boat to capsize, the MNRP reported after an investigation, noting strong wind gusts and high waves with a water temperature in the 50s. The boat was reportedly less than 15 minutes from shore at Leonardtown when it capsized, and all were wearing life jackets.
That last bit should send a chill down any boater’s spine, and remind them that bad weather and water make a bad combination — even with a life jacket.