OCEAN CITY — A 30th birthday celebration on the water took a decided turn for the worse on Monday when a Sykesville man jumped off the bow of a rented pontoon boat while the vessel was in motion and was struck in the head, neck and shoulder by the propeller.
Around 5:10 p.m. on Monday, John Scott Hauf, 26, was on a rented pontoon boat with six other friends celebrating a 30th birthday party when he jumped off the front of the vessel while it was in motion in the Isle of Wight Bay in the area of 32nd Street. The pontoon boat ran over Hauf and he was struck by the propeller, causing severe lacerations to his left shoulder, neck and the back of his head.
Hauf’s friends were able to pull him from the water and administered First-Aid until they were able to get the vessel to port at nearby Bahia Marina. Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) and the Coast Guard responded along with Ocean City Emergency Services, which transported the victim to PRMC in Salisbury in critical condition.
The victim was then transported to Shock Trauma in Baltimore. By Tuesday morning, Hauf was listed in stable condition, according to NRP Public Information Officer Candus Thomson.
The vessel’s operator, Kurt Steven Dawson, who turned 30 on Monday, failed field sobriety tests and will likely be charged pending the results of a blood-alcohol test taken at Atlantic General Hospital following the incident.
Monday’s incident highlights a growing problem involving boating and alcohol with the arrival of the Fourth of July weekend and the height of the summer season. Last weekend, Maryland NRP officers participated in Operation Dry Water as part of a nationwide crackdown on alcohol- and drug-impaired boaters. From the waters in and around Ocean City to the Chesapeake to Deep Creek Lake and everywhere in between, NRP officers took part in saturation patrols looking for boaters whose blood-alcohol content exceeds the state limit of .08. Thomson said Operation Dry Water last weekend was a precursor to this holiday weekend and the NRP and other allied maritime law enforcement agencies would once again be out in force.
“We like to think of Operation Dry Water as a dress rehearsal for the Fourth of July weekend and the rest of the summer,” she said. “We’re not only looking for impaired boaters, but we’re doing safety checks and everything else we can to make sure everybody is safe while having a good time. Last weekend, we did over a thousand safety checks on vessels for life preservers, flairs and fire extinguishers, for example.”
Thomson said the Fourth of July weekend presents unique challenges for the NRP and its allied agencies.
“We know the coming weekend will be an extremely busy one on the water,” she said. “We’ll have people out there watching fireworks, fishing, crabbing, enjoying a day on the water with their families and with that will come some impaired boat operators. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for a safe holiday weekend.”
NRP Superintendent Col. George F. Johnson IV said this week effects of alcohol and drugs on boat operators is no different than those on impaired drivers and the agency will handle the cases the same way as their land-bound counterparts.
“Our officers witness on a regular basis how alcohol and drugs can have a profound effect on a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time,” said NRP Superintendent Col. George F. Johnson IV this week. “Operation Dry Water makes it clear that Maryland has no tolerance for alcohol or drug impaired boaters.”
Thomson said the NRP typically makes about a dozen arrests for operating a vessel under the influence (OUI) during the weekend-long Operation Dry Water. The maximum penalty for operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol is a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for a first offense.
“Most people don’t realize a first offense for OUI carries the same penalties as a first offense for DUI,” she said. “Beyond the obvious safety issues, getting arrested for OUI can certainly ruin a holiday weekend.”
Last year, NRP arrests for operating while impaired spiked to 206 from 124 in 2012. Statistics also show alcohol was a factor in 12 percent of the 127 reported boating accidents in 2013.
Monday’s incident in Ocean City illustrates the dangers of operating a vessel while impaired and hammers home the NRP’s public safety message.
“Sadly, one impaired operator’s poor decisions can harm passengers and people in the water and on other boats,” said Johnson.