OCEAN CITY — One week after officially declaring the sandy island in the coastal bays behind the resort off limits, it appears the message got out with a just a handful of interactions over Memorial Day weekend.
Last year, the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) generally looked the other way and did not harass the boaters on Tern Island since the time for the nesting birds to arrive had passed. Last week, however, the NRP and its allied partners declared Tern Island and similarly-situated islands in the coastal bays off limits to boaters and promised stepped-up enforcement.
The NRP promised an educational and outreach approach in the beginning with enforcement in the form of citations a measure of last resort. Apparently, the word got out because just a handful of incidents involving the islands were reported on the busy holiday weekend. NRP spokesperson Candus Thomson said this week two groups had to be evicted from the islands including a group of 15-20 from Tern Island and four people from Skimmer Island just north of the Route 50 bridge. Thomson said there were no problems and no tickets issued, just verbal warning as the NRP continues an educational approach to the changing rules.
In terms of overall enforcement on the waters in and around the resort, last weekend was fairly calm considering the amount of boat traffic over the holiday. In Worcester County alone, there were no reportable boating accidents and no boating fatalities. NRP officers did make seven arrests for impaired boating in and around the resort area, which was the highest number of arrests in the state.
Otherwise, the NRP issued nine tickets for alcohol violations, wrote 48 tickets for other violations and issued 106 warnings for various offenses. Continuing on the theme of education first, the NRP conducted 185 free boating safety checks in the resort area and talked to 1,322 individual anglers, boaters and state park visitors.
The statistics for the Ocean City and Assateague areas paralleled those from other areas around the state, which is good news after a particularly rough year on the water last year. In 2015, there were 146 total boating accidents in Maryland including 21 fatalities, representing a 20-year high. A concerted effort by the NRP combined with a safety-conscious boating got the new season off to a good start with just four boating accidents reported statewide.
“We did everything in our power to be visible, to interact and to educate,” said NRP Superintendent Robert K Ziegler, Jr. this week. “Our officers spoke with nearly 18,000 boaters, anglers and state park visitors. Together with our reserve force, they conducted 2,400 free boat inspections across the state.”
Closer to home, NRP Area Commander Lieutenant Art Windemuth said the NRP had stepped up enforcement patrols last weekend and will continue to ramp up its efforts through the summer season. Windemuth said the NRP expected some challenges last weekend because the cool, raining spring kept many boaters at the dock and most were hitting the water for the first time.
“One of the best pieces of advice we can give is to avoid alcohol on the water,” he said. “That applies to the operator obviously, but that also goes for the passengers. We see so many cases where a passenger is inebriated and falls off the boat.”
Windemuth emphasized the penalties for operating a vessel under the influence are the same as drinking and driving.
“When you think of drinking and driving, the climate is controlled and the ride is generally smooth,” he said. “Out on the water, the sun is strong and it is often windy. The boat rocks and the ride is bumpy and all of that leads to fatigue and accelerates the effects of alcohol.”
Windemuth said when he heads out on the water for business or pleasure, he always follows the SAFE acronym and urged all boaters to do the same. The “S” stands for always surveying the vessel and trailer before even leaving the dock or driveway to ensure everything is in working order. Windemuth said the “A” in the acronym stands for anticipation.
“You need to anticipate the conditions and anticipate your skill levels in relation to those conditions,” he said. “You always need to check the marine forecast and anticipate what potential hazards you might face on the water.”
The “F” in the acronym stands for filing a float plan.
“You should always tell someone where you are going, how long you plan to be out and when you are expected to return,” he said. “So many times, boaters are in distress and nobody knows about it because they don’t know they’re out there.”
Finally, the “E” stands for equipment could be the most important element in the acronym.
“Boaters need to make sure they have all of the appropriate equipment and that it is in proper working order,” he said. “That means one life jacket for everyone on board, flares and fire extinguishers that are working properly and not expired, and means of communication.”