With boating deaths at a seven-year high, the Department of Natural Resources will be asking the General Assembly to enact tougher laws, requiring more children to wear life jackets and placing age restrictions on who may supervise an uncertified boater.
Fifteen people have died on Maryland waterways this year despite stepped-up enforcement and high-visibility safety campaigns by Natural Resources Police.
Under a proposal endorsed by the O'Malley administration, all children under the age of 13 would be required to wear a personal flotation device, beginning July 10. The current age threshold is 7.
Maryland, which pioneered mandatory boating safety classes in the 1980s and minimum ages for wearing a life jacket, fell behind other states in enacting tougher standards. The proposed bill would bring Maryland in line with federal regulations and 34 states, said Natural Resources Police Capt. Robert Davis.
The Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board and American Academy of Pediatrics have endorsed the bill.
Of the 510 people who drowned in boating accidents nationwide in 2008, 459 were not wearing life jackets. Seven of Maryland's nine boating fatalities were drownings, according to NRP and Coast Guard statistics.
In Maryland this year, an 11-year-old girl from Earleville who was not wearing a life jacket drowned after she was thrown from a bow seat on her family's 22-foot motorboat into the Sassafras River when the boat struck the large wake of a passing tugboat. Two fishermen drowned in the Nanticoke River during a storm in April and, in July, a man died when he jumped into the South River for a swim and became distressed. In all four cases, help was near.
The other proposal would close a loophole in state law that allows anyone holding a boater safety certificate, regardless of their age, to supervise someone operating a boat who does not have a certificate.
"You could have a situation where it could be two 8-year-olds, and one hands off to the other, then wanders away to the back of the boat," Davis said. "We are proposing that the person holding the certificate has to be at least 18 years old."