Our dangerous playground Boating accidents: Knowledge and respect for the water are keys to avoiding tragedy.

July 16, 1996

A YOUNG Baltimore County mother remains in serious condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center 10 days after a power boat accident whose circumstances, sadly, seem destined to be repeated before this summer is out.

Something about the water makes people take leave of caution. This woman was critically injured because she and her husband sped through an always crowded, frequently choppy section of the Middle River and crossed the wake of another boat. They were not wearing life jackets; their boat had no seat belts.

The accident sparked discussion of whether a speed limit should be posted in that part of the river, an idea that certainly couldn't hurt. But knowledge and good sense are the real keys to avoiding tragedy on Maryland beaches, the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

No one should set foot behind the helm of a boat or personal watercraft until they have completed a boating safety class. Those born after July 1, 1972 are required by law to take such a course; everyone else ought to do so. The courses cover just about everything a person on the water should know, from what happens when you jump wakes to navigating by the stars. The education arm of the Department of Natural Resources Police (410-974-2040) can tell you where classes are offered.

It's crucial that jet ski operators take this class. Jet skis are great fun -- and probably the biggest menace ever to hit Maryland waterways. Fast and maneuverable, they zip between and in front of other watercraft. And because they cost only about $5,000, they're being snatched up by inexperienced people who suddenly find they can afford water sports.

Last year, the General Assembly foolishly voted down some common-sense rules for jet skis, including one requiring all operators to pass a written test. Last year, jet skis accounted for only 5 percent of Maryland watercraft, but their operators received 22 percent of the citations issued by DNR. Four people, including a 13-year-old Severna Park girl, were killed in 1995 in jet ski accidents.

The bay and its tributaries are Maryland's greatest resource and a wonderful playground. But recreators will spoil it, and imperil NTC themselves and others, if they don't learn to mix responsibility with their fun.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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