Water is a big part of Maryland life. The bounty of the Chesapeake is a source of income for a lot of hard working crews. Recreational boating is also big industry on the bay and all up and down the Atlantic coast.
Getting out on the water is a great way to have fun, and there are many ways to do it: fishing, sailboat and speedboat charters to name just a few. But inland visitors to the big bay and ocean waters often find themselves surprised by how the salt water experience differs from fresh water activities. Serious boating injuries are not unusual and because myriad laws regarding liability can be in play, making claims for recovery can get complicated without skilled legal help.
Because of the risks and the desire to minimize them, Maryland and Virginia laws establish minimum requirements for boat operators – whether they own the craft or are merely renting. What follows briefly outlines some of the basics.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the agency that oversees water safety in the state. Enforcement is handled by DNR police. The Coast Guard plays a role, too. Under Maryland law, if you are under the age of 45 and plan to operate a boat or even a personal water craft, you need to obtain a Boater Education Card and have it available to show if you are stopped for an inspection.
On the water, operators have responsibility for operating safely. That means:
- Avoiding swimming areas
- Not drinking or doing drugs and driving
- Keeping all passengers inside the confines of the boat while underway
- Maintaining the weight load of the boat within the limits of its capacity plate
Every boat on the water, rental or otherwise, is also required to have certain safety gear on board, including:
- Age and weight appropriate Coast Guard-approved life jackets for all passengers
- The right number of approved fire extinguishers
- Proper visual distress signals (hand-held flares)
- A sound-making device (whistle or horn) audible from a half-mile away
Boating accidents can happen. Safety on the water, however, is part of fulfilling the duty of care.