OCEAN CITY – Federal, state and local officials this week took the opportunity to promote boat safety ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.
On Tuesday, officials with the U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) joined local representatives at Bayside Boat Rentals to remind everyone of the dangers of bow riding and to promote boat safety.
In 2017, the partnering agencies launched an aggressive public awareness campaign promoting boat safety and the dangers of bow riding, or riding on the front of a vessel outside the passenger areas with one’s legs dangling over the water.
The creation of the Ride Inside campaign followed a series of boating accidents in 2016. In one instance, a 9-year-old boy riding on the bow of a rented pontoon boat died after falling off the vessel and into the path of the propeller.
DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said each year the department’s enforcement arm, the NRP, responds to boating injuries and tragedies that could have been avoided.
“Safety is always our number one, top priority,” she said. “That’s why we are so pleased to be here today to talk about boating safety and specifically to talk about our Ride Inside campaign, which is designed to remind boaters that bow riding is not only dangerous, but it is illegal in the state of Maryland.”
Haddaway-Riccio said the department issued 140 warnings and citations for bow riding in 2017 and 116 in 2018. To date, the agency has issued 84 citations for bow riding in 2019.
“The best way to avoid this danger for you, for your family and for the passengers on your boat is to ride inside,” she said.
Senator Mary Beth Carozza – who worked alongside former Senator Jim Mathias to try and regulate the practice of bow riding through legislation – noted the importance of promoting boat safety ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. She also highlighted partnerships with local boat rental businesses to share the campaign’s message.
“When we raise visibility and simply keep repeating ‘Ride Inside’ we’re talking safety,” she said, “And I am absolutely convinced, like so many people here today, that we will save lives this way.”
Delegate Wayne Hartman praised the Ride Inside campaign.
“I feel blessed to represent an area with all these natural resources, which are so inviting and provide so much opportunity and fun,” he said. “But at the same time, we have to remember some basic, simple things and act responsibly.”
Delegate Carl Anderton agreed.
“It’s very important to follow safety on the water,” he said.
Ocean City Coast Guard Station Master Chief Nathan Beach reported an improvement in the public’s awareness of illegal bow riding. But he also highlighted a significant increase in impaired boating.
“We will be out doing a lot of patrols, along with the Maryland Natural Resources Police, to try and curb that in the area,” he said. “And I want to remind everybody to wear your lifejackets for the Fourth of July weekend. It’s busy and the water can be dangerous.”
NRP Superintendent Col. Robert K. “Ken” Ziegler Jr. reiterated the importance of the Ride Inside campaign.
“As you can tell from the statistics, bow riding continues to be a problem,” he said. “I’m happy to report we’ve not experienced any fatal boating accidents as a result of it. But it’s a dangerous and irresponsible practice and is certainly something that can lead to instant death.”
Last year, Maryland reported 16 boating fatalities, seven more than the year prior. Ziegler added that part of the overall boat safety message includes the importance of wearing a lifejacket.
“Trying to put this on when you realize you are about to go overboard is the equivalent of trying to put on your safety belt when you realize you’re about to have a traffic accident,” he said. “You can’t do it … This is the difference between going home a little wet, and maybe a little embarrassed, and never going home again.”
Ziegler said his agency is doubling down on its safe-boating initiatives by enhancing officer training and providing boat inspections and public launch areas.
“Maryland offers the best outdoor recreational experiences you can imagine, both on the water and in our parks,” he said. “Please take advantage of those opportunities, but do so safely. As I like to say, ‘Live to play another day.’”