OCEAN CITY — New regulations prohibiting bow-riding on vessels could be in place as soon as next spring after a productive meeting last week between the area’s representatives in Annapolis and state boating officials.
In the wake of several serious boating accidents in the resort last summer, including a fatal propeller strike that claimed the life of a child in August, Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Mary Beth Carozza began discussions in earnest with state boating officials, including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its enforcement wing, the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP), about tightening the regulations regarding the dangerous practice of bow-riding.
Last week, Mathias and Carozza, along with DNR and NRP officials, met with the state’s Boat Act Advisory Committee to discuss changes to the regulations that would prohibit bow-riding. Out of that meeting came a proposed regulation change that could put a new law on the books in advance of recreational boating season next spring.
Mathias said this week the meeting with the Boat Act Advisory Committee was productive and a new regulation prohibiting bow-riding could be posted in the Maryland Registry as soon as mid-January. Following the requisite public comment period, the new regulation could become effective as soon as March 27.
“It went very well,” he said. “There was a roundtable discussion and everybody agreed. Some language was drafted and this thing is on its way. When it is posted in the Maryland Registry, the public, including the boat operators and the rental business people will all have the opportunity to weigh in on it, but everybody I’ve talked to even before it has been posted has supported this. I suspect it will go through without any problem.”
There were three serious incidents involving rented pontoon boats in the bays around Ocean City in the span of about three weeks in August, including a fatal accident involving a nine-year-old child who fell off a boat while riding on the bow and was run over and struck by the propeller. It has been a problem for years, but heretofore there has been no specific regulation aimed directly at bow-riding. Mathias said this week the proposed regulation drafted last week specifically addresses bow-riding.
“There is no specific language about bow riding in the regulations,” he said. “It’s mired in reckless operation. They can cite someone, but it comes with a $325 fine, and what we’re hearing is often the cases come before a judge who will ask if anyone got hurt. If not, they often say no harm, no foul.”
Mathias said the proposed regulation drafted last week takes on the bow-riding issue head on.
“It includes specific language about bow-riding and limbs hanging over and things like that,” he said. “There are some exceptions in it for sailboats, for example, because the nature of sailing often requires leaning over the sides and pulling ropes or sitting in the bow. We didn’t want to have an unintended consequence of harming the sailing community with this.”
Even before the meeting last week, Carozza sent a letter to the Boat Act Advisory Committee expressing a sense of urgency for adopting regulations specific to bow-riding.
“It should be noted that the Natural Resources Police, local boat captains and operators of boat and personal watercraft rentals believe and agree that the current boat safety regulations pertaining to negligent operations on a boat should be clarified and strengthened to identify bow-riding as dangerous,” the letter reads. “I am encouraged that the proposed regulations have been discussed with industry professionals and address their observations and experiences on the water. In light of the serious boating accidents that occurred in local waters this past season, including the death of a child, there is a sense of urgency.”
After the run of serious boating accidents last summer, a coalition of professional bay captains initiated a push for tighter regulations on bow-riding specifically and higher standards for the rental industry in general. After the fatal accident in August, Mathias said he was approached by a long-time veteran NRP officer who expressed a desire to get something stronger on the books about bow-riding. The intent initially was to seek legislation to address the issue, but after last week’s meeting, it appeared going the regulation route would be quicker and more effective.
“The thought at first was to try to do this by legislation, but after all of the discussion, it was decided to do it by regulation,” he said. “That will expedite it and get it on the books faster so when recreational boating season rolls around again next spring, this should be in place. It’s practical. It’s going to save lives and prevent injuries and it’s going to be clearly expressed in the law.”