ANNAPOLIS -- Every child under 12 on open pleasure boats in Maryland waters would have to wear a life jacket most of the time under legislation pushed yesterday by a Cecil County Democrat.
Del. Ethel Murray's bill would not apply to children in an enclosed cabin or otherwise below deck, or to those riding in harbor taxis or other commercial passenger vessels regulated by the Coast Guard.
Natural Resources Police Maj. Wayne O. Bromwell said his department supports the bill. The statistics he offered the Environmental Matters Committee did not show a widespread problem with children falling off boats and drowning, however.
Twenty-nine people drowned in Maryland waters in 1991, but only one -- a 4-year-old boy who fell off an anchored boat at Chestertown -- was under the age of 12, he said.
In the past five years, there have been 110 drownings in state waters, only three of them involving children under 12, Major Bromwell said. Most drownings, he said, involve people in their "early 20s to mid-30s."
The measure (House Bill 49) also received support from the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club Association, which represents about 40,000 boaters from 98 clubs around the bay.
But several committee members were skeptical about the need for the legislation and its enforcement. They also questioned a law that would allow a child to swim around an anchored boat without a life jacket and then require him to wear one when he climbs aboard. Some said the 12-year age limit is too high. Several delegates questioned how marine police could determine a child's correct age, noting that few boaters carry identification on board.
"Ask the kid," suggested James B. Webster, lobbyist for the Yacht Clubs Association. "I can't imagine the kid lying. I can imagine the parents lying."