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Secretary’s Message: May 2019

Boating Safety is a Way of Life in Maryland

Photo of Secretary RiccioAs an avid boater, I am very appreciative that Maryland’s boating season is (finally) underway. And as the daughter of a boat builder and the wife of a former merchant marine, the importance of boater safety has been instilled in me throughout my life.  I want to encourage others to make it a way of life too – not just during the month of May, which is Boating Safety Month, but every day.

Maryland is one of the nation’s leading destinations for water recreation, which is a point of pride, but with that comes a huge responsibility. In 2018, Maryland reported 132 boating accidents. Tragically, 16 of those were fatalities — a 167 percent increase from the previous year.

There are a few boater safety tips that stand out above all others and that would help us reduce those statistics in Maryland:

  • Wear your life jacket and have an appropriate number of life jackets available for passengers on your vessel.  State law requires that they be worn by anyone under the age of 13 on boats less than 21 feet in length at all times while underway. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 90 percent of drowning victims in last year’s recreational boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket.  It is also important to ensure that life jackets fit properly in order to function properly.
  • Get certified and know the rules of navigation. Anyone born on or after July 1, 1972 must have a boater safety certificate in their possession while operating a numbered or documented vessel on Maryland waters. Natural Resources Police and partner organizations offer boating safety courses that provide this legally required certification.  I am proud to say that our department is leading by example. Our Fishing and Boating Services unit now requires all staff who ride in boats — whether or not they are subject to the law — to take the boating safety exam, including our experienced captains.
  • And never operate a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  In these cases, accidents and fatalities are 100 percent preventable. We want everyone to enjoy their experience out on the water, but nothing is worth losing your life or taking the lives of others.  

On May 17, the Department of Natural Resources will again be reminding everyone of the importance of boater safety by celebrating Wear your Life Jacket to Work Day. We encourage you to participate at your own workplace and to share these life-saving tips.

More information is available on the department’s website. I look forward to seeing you out on the water and I wish everyone a happy and safe boating season!

Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio is Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.