'Keep it safe' is the first rule on boating trip


May 29, 1994|By GARY DIAMOND

Sunshine, good weather and open water make for a fun-filled, Memorial Day weekend of fishing and boating in Harford County.

Fun, however, directly depends on avoiding those problems that quickly can ruin a trip and turn an entertaining weekend into a disastrous holiday. Boaters easily can avoid mishaps by first compiling a comprehensive checklist and going over it prior to making the trip. However, there are a few other things to consider.

Keep it safe. Knowing the navigational rules of the road, observing all marked waterway warnings and directions and avoiding all consumption of alcohol while engaged in water sports is your personal responsibility.

Maryland's Natural Resources Police will be strictly enforcing boating laws throughout the entire boating season, particularly targeting those who operate their craft while intoxicated. Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) carries stiff penalties and heavy fines and is responsible for several deaths in Maryland every year.

During busy holiday weekends, Natural Resources Police and DNR park rangers spend an enormous amount of time aiding stranded boaters. In most instances, something as simple as running out of fuel or a bad battery connection causes an engine to fail when least expected. The hapless boater then either calls for help on the VHF radio or fires a distress flare.

When Natural Resources Police or the U.S. Coast Guard come to his rescue, the boat's operator is asked for the registration card, safety equipment is inspected and in most instances, a tow boat will be called.

Neither the Coast Guard or Natural Resources Police will tow a boat to the nearest marina and the cost of having the craft towed by one of the services is horrendous. The boating checklist would not only have prevented most of these problems from occurring, but can save you lots of money.

Some folks never make it to the marina. These are the same people you see with their boats parked on the shoulder of the interstate every weekend.

Smoke frequently is billowing from the boat trailer's wheels, a good indication of a fried wheel bearing, or they have a flat tire, but no spare. A checklist for your trailer is also a good idea.

Finally, we need a checklist for people. Someone always forgets to bring something, lunches, sodas, suntan lotion, or if the weather turns bad, a rain suit.

Additionally, tell someone where you're going. DNR Park Ranger Mike Browning says rangers are constantly checking license tags of cars left on their parking lot after hours.

"Let's say we find out the car is owned by Joe Jones. We then call his home and more often than not, his wife answers and says Joe went fishing on the bay, but she has no idea where," he said.

"Had the person told his wife when he would be returning and where he was going fishing, we would know exactly where to look and when to begin worrying."

Browning said filing a simple float plan with the park would make his job a lot easier.

The following is a partial checklist that can make this a holiday weekend you'll enjoy.

Ignore it and you'll likely be among the folks normally seen waving their arms frantically at every passing boat.

Boat list

* Batteries charged

* Emergency tool kit

* Extra hose clamp, spark plugs with wrench

* Fresh gas

* Bilge clean and dry

* Extra drain plug in boat

* Running and anchor lights functioning

* Extra gear, food/soft drinks properly and safely stowed

' * Anchor with long rope

Safety equipment:

* Personal flotation device for each occupant

* Check flares, whistle, horn

* First aid kit

* Tow rope

* Functional fire extinguisher

* Flashlight with batteries

* Charts, maps of cruise area

* Check VHF radio

D8 * File a float plan with marina or port of departure

Boat trailer:

* Check brakes, proper operation

* Check wheel lug nuts for security

* Check hitch for ball size, security

* Check boat/trailer tie-downs

* Check all signal, brake and side marker lights

* Check the spare wheel and tire

2& * Inflate tires to proper pressure

Boat occupants

* High-numbered sunscreen lotion

* Weather forecast for boating area

* Make sure PFDs are worn

* Change of clothes

* Allow no drinking and boating

* Never overload the boat

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