ANNAPOLIS – If you were involved in a boating accident last year, chances are it was on a July Sunday in Anne Arundel County waters while at the helm of a jet ski.
There is also a 50-50 chance that the skipper of your boat was under the influence of alcohol at the time, according to data provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
And if you suffered an injury in the accident, chances are good that it involved a broken bone or laceration.
Of 310 boating accidents in 1997, said the DNR stats, 95 were in Anne Arundel County waters, 85 were in July, 83 were on Sundays and 82 involved personal watercraft.
The total number of accidents was an increase from 1995 and 1996, when boating accidents numbered in the low-to-mid 200s. But it was well below the 400-plus accidents reported annually in the early 1990s.
“Last year, it appeared we were on a record-setting pace, but after the half-way point we didn’t get any” accident reports, said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the DNR.
The types of injuries varied widely, but the list of 128 boating injuries was led by 23 involving broken bones and 20 lacerations.
Six people died in boating accidents last year. Five of those deaths were drowning victims, three of whom were not wearing life jackets.
Coast Guard records show that none of the 13 people who drowned in Maryland waters in 1996 were wearing life jackets and only four of the nine who drowned in 1995 were wearing them.
Not counted in those numbers are people who drowned while swimming off their boats, McIntire said. Because those are not classified as boating accidents, he could not provide exact figures on such deaths, but said they do occur.
“If folks are going to swim in waterways, please swim with a life jacket on,” McIntire said, citing the motto of last year’s safety campaign: “Life jackets … they float, you don’t.”
Boating safety week begins May 16 but, until then, the DNR offers the following advice to boaters:
* Wear a life jacket or at least have one readily available for every person on board, as required by law.
* Have some type of communication device available, such as a radio or cellular phone. McIntire recounts a story from earlier this year in which three fishermen who grounded their boat in the Patuxent River had to douse a shirt in gasoline and set it on fire to get the attention of people on shore.
* Do not hot-dog on personal watercraft, which led the state in boating accidents last year. Personal watercraft, better known as jet skis, cannot be operated at night or by people under 16.
* Take boating safety courses, which are offered by both the DNR and Coast Guard and are mandatory for any would-be boater born after July 1, 1972.
* Do not drink and steer.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that laws for drunken boating are the same as for drinking and driving,” McIntire said.
The DNR — which recommends that boaters have a designated skipper, akin to a designated driver — issued 108 tickets for boating under the influence last year. That was down sharply from the near-200 tickets for operating-under-the-influence that were issued annually from 1993-95.