ANNAPOLIS – Four years ago, Jamie Andre de la Porte, 29, of Montreal, and his skipper noticed another boat awkwardly trying to dock near their yacht.
The other boat tried backing into the slip, a maneuver that Andre de la Porte’s skipper knew would not work because of the wind direction. Sure enough, a gust turned the docking boat 90 degrees, sending the side of the boat crashing into the back of Andre de la Porte’s.
There were no injuries, but a significant amount of damage – approximately $5,000 – and a lot of screaming and shouting.
Although not a serious accident, it shows the dangers of operating a boat, even for an experienced sailor.
Anybody can buy a boat, but the danger is that not everybody knows how to use it, said Andre de la Porte.
“When participation becomes unsafe, people need to be aware,” Andre de la Porte said. “They need to get some kind of certification or training before they can take these boats out.”
Maryland law requires anyone born after July 1, 1972, to get a certificate of boating safety, something Andre de la Porte said is a great step.
Officials credit the strict boating regulations in helping to cut boating accidents in Maryland by 9 percent from 2002-2003, according to a United States Coast Guard database.
The database also shows that of the 183 people involved in a Maryland accident in 2003, more than 60 percent reported no education, or their education could not be determined.
“I think it’s something (safety rules) that needs to be enforced with every sale of a boat, every time that somebody gets on the water,” said Andre de la Porte.
Canada will make it mandatory for all operators to have proof of competency on board in 2009, according to the country’s Office of Boating Safety.
Andre de la Porte already has a small boat operator’s license.
Rod Jabin, the owner of Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard, said taking a safety course is important for people who are new to boating.
“I think it’s reasonable to expect a basic level of understanding,” said Jabin.
Although he was unsure how helpful the course was in reducing accidents, he said you would be hard pressed to argue otherwise.
“More understanding always leads to more control,” he said. “Is it going to alleviate all? No. Is it going to help reduce some? Yea, I think so.”
And while an accident can be dangerous, it can also be a learning experience, according to Andre de la Porte.
“If you were the instigator of an accident, you learn from it and it is a very traumatizing experience,” he said. “If you’re the recipient of an accident, you go out the next time being more cautious.”
Head-on collisions are rare in the boating world, according to Jabin. Most accidents he sees involve little bumps or damage caused from objects in the water. There are more serious accidents, but they are negligible as a percentage of the number of boaters on the water, said Jabin.
Both Jabin and Andre de la Porte used personal watercraft as an example of how dangerous it is to operate a vessel without proper training.
“It’s crazy, people get killed (on them) every time,” said Andre de la Porte.
He said there is no requirement to be licensed to drive them, which is why there are so many accidents. However, Maryland’s boater safety education requirements apply to personal watercraft.