3 Boating-Safety Steps When Celebrating the Red, White & Blue

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A nautical safety primer for Annapolis 4th of July celebrations

July 4th is right around the corner, and for many boaters this means watching fireworks, family get-togethers, barbecues . . . and a trip to the emergency room? Unfortunately, that’s the stark reality for many patriotic seafarers.

Research conducted by the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) indicates more than half of Maryland’s annual total of boating accidents occurs between July and August. Last year, Maryland recorded 130 boating accidents that resulted in 12 fatalities and 96 injuries. These daunting statistics prompted the NRP to focus on a simple, yet obviously essential goal for this July 4th holiday: fewer boating accidents. Their game plan is straightforward, with officers deploying in full force to all state waterways from the Atlantic Ocean to Deep Creek Lake.

“Maryland has seen eight boating fatalities so far this season and that’s eight too many,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “Our officers will be aggressively targeting reckless and negligent boaters, and those whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs.”

In 2015, the NRP conducted Operation Dry Water, a nationwide campaign to curb alcohol- and drug-impaired boating in the weeks leading up to and including July 4th. Officers arrested six people for operating under the influence of alcohol and three for drug-impaired boating while issuing 87 tickets for other violations and conducting 727 vessel safety checks. Despite these efforts, Maryland recorded four boating accidents, three of them fatal, but the NRP aren’t giving up—and they’re turning to YOU to reign in these less-than-stellar statistics.

This year, the NRP is urging Maryland boaters to take precautions to ensure the safety of passengers and those in other vessels during their 4th of July celebrations—as Johnson puts it: “When it comes to safety, you are the first line of defense, by using common sense and following simple safe boating rules you can help NRP make this a safe and happy holiday.” So avoid a citation, and more importantly, the risk of serious injury or death, by following these safety measures this holiday weekend!

1. KEEP CALM AND FLOAT ON

Before heading out, ensure your lights are in working order. Even if they worked the night before, double and triple check. With the heavy boat traffic, don’t risk your safety! Will you have enough lines and fenders for the day? Bring some extras as backup; chances are good you or a fellow boater will end up needing them!

Make sure there are enough life jackets for ALL passengers on board and that they fit well. While it may be warm and unfashionable, don’t be tempted to forgo wearing a life jacket. Remember, children ages 12 and under are required by law to wear a life jacket at all times while the boat is underway. Accidents happen quickly, and often there isn’t time to put on a life jacket once an accident has happened. Statistics consistently show that 80% of all boating fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Don’t overcrowd the boat. Heed the boat’s capacity plate on the transom or by the helm, or look up the passenger capacity in the boat’s manual.

Don’t rush to get home after the fireworks display. Allow some of the boat traffic to dissipate before raising anchor.

Take the time to thoroughly brief your crew with basic emergency procedures, and show them how to contact authorities for help via marine radio or cell phone.

Ensure that you have flares and that they are up to date, but never use flares as a form of fireworks. Doing so constitutes a false distress call, which is a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines, plus the costs associated with the false rescue response!

2. IF YOU’RE A SKIPPER, YOU’RE NOT A SIPPER

Appoint a sober skipper to remain at the helm all evening and be responsible for returning the boat and its passengers safely to shore after the conclusion of the fireworks display. Simply put, boating and alcohol do not mix—in addition to impairing the operator’s ability to make sound judgments, intoxication also negatively affects the ability of passengers to respond in the case of an emergency on the water. The combined effects of the sun, wind, waves and a boat’s motion in the water can add to an operator’s impairment. Intoxicated boaters can face both federal and state charges with penalties of up to one year in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.

3. BE THE MAN (or woman!) WITH A PLAN

Follow the directions issued by NRP, the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary and local police as to where you may safely anchor to view the fireworks away from sparks and ash. For Annapolis-area boaters, keep in mind that the drawspan of the Eastport Bridge will be closed to boat traffic from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Boaters must avoid the 1,000-foot SAFETY ZONE around the fireworks firing area which will be established and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. At approximately 9:15 p.m., the fireworks will be launched from a barge in Annapolis Harbor.

Also be sure to file a float plan with a shore-bound friend that lists all passengers aboard, your intended destination, what the boat looks like, and when you expect to return. Instruct them what steps to take in the event that they don’t receive notification from you within a reasonable time of when you expect to reach shore at then end of the evening. Visit http://floatplancentral.org/ for a complete plan along with instructions. Select in advance the route to your fireworks-viewing destination and use a GPS to help keep you on course. While on the water, be on the lookout for other boats in the vicinity, stormy weather, or anything that appears unusual. The Coast Guard advises the public to stay aware of their surroundings, including monitoring watching water conditions, celebrating responsibly and not misusing emergency flares as fireworks. Report any emergencies to local authorities by calling 911 or VHF Channel 16.

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