Boating season is just around the corner. Most Baltimore-area boaters try to get their boats ready and in the water for the Memorial Day holiday.
The start of last year’s boating season was especially tough for the Baltimore and Annapolis boating communities. Declared by officials to be the deadliest start in six years, the 2018 boating season saw four people dead in boating accidents in 16 days. By contrast, in 2017, nine people died in boating-related accidents. So far, this year, there’s only been one boating mishap which occurred when Maryland State Police rescued three stranded boaters by helicopter in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. No lives were lost in that incident.
With such a rough start to last year’s sailing and powerboating season, boating safety has to be on the minds of many Chesapeake Bay sailors and powerboaters. Apart from last year’s bad numbers for Baltimore boating accidents, it’s worth noting that Maryland, California and Florida rank in the top ten for boating accidents, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Most boating accidents in Maryland occur because of alcohol use, operator inattention and operator inexperience.
Baltimore boating and alcohol
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol is involved in about 17% of all recreational boating fatalities. Under Maryland law, boaters are prohibited from operating or attempting to operate a watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while impaired by drugs or alcohol. If marine law enforcement finds that a boat operator is operating under the influence of alcohol, the boat operator can be charged with Boating Under the Influence (BUI) and Boating While Intoxicated (BWI). In general, the penalties for a BUI are more severe than those for a BWI conviction.
Maryland law states that when you operate a vessel in Maryland waters you have consented to random tests for drugs and alcohol by law enforcement officials so neither the United States Coast Guard nor the Maryland Natural Resources Police need a reason to board a water vessel to check for Baltimore BUI and BWI. If a Baltimore boat owner/operator refuses to submit to a chemical test can result in the loss of boating privileges for up to one year.
Many people facing a BUI or BWI charge are concerned about the impact on their driving privileges. A drunken boating conviction does not affect your driving record and will not impact the status of your Maryland driver’s license.
Boating under the influence
Under Maryland law, a blood test that indicates a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater will result in a BUI charge.
In general, the penalties for a BUI are more severe than those for a BWI conviction.
Under Maryland law, boaters convicted of operating water craft under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in jail. A first-offense Maryland BUI is a misdemeanor.
A second Maryland BUI conviction will probably see a doubling of the fines and/or jail time.
Boating while intoxicated
A person can be convicted of a BWI for operating a vessel while “so far impaired by any drug, combination of drugs, or combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person cannot operate a vessel safely.”
A Maryland BWI charge generally shows a blood alcohol concentration of .07% to .08%.
A first Maryland BWI conviction is a misdemeanor and convicted boaters face a maximum of two months in jail and $500 in fines.
Safety Tips for Maryland Boaters
It also helps to learn the rules of the road involving sailboats and powerboats. In most instances, the sailboat is the “favored” boat, requiring powerboaters to give way. But, sailboaters shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security as sometimes powerboaters aren’t aware of the “right of way” rules.
Of course, it’s also important to keep a lookout on the water for others and to get out of their way if they don’t know that you have the right-of-way.
Apart from being careful about using alcohol when boating and learning who has the right of way on Baltimore’s waterways, there are several other ways to make boating safer. Make sure you are wearing a lifejacket – also called a personal flotation device – or have one nearby. Also make sure that you have one for each person aboard your vessel. The Coast Guard has said that many of those who died in last year’s Baltimore boating accidents were not wearing life jackets. In fact, officials say, in one instance, a personal flotation device saved the life of a Shady Side man whose kayak flipped while he was out on the West River.
New boaters are tempted to think they can rely on their cellphones in times of trouble. But experienced sea captains make sure to have a VHF radio so, if there is an emergency, they can broadcast it on Channel 16, which Coast Guard officials monitor around the clock.
If you have been involved in a Baltimore boating accident because of the negligence of another, you may have a valid personal injury claim. In addition, a Baltimore or Maryland boating accident lawyer can help you if you are charged with a BUI or BWI. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick can help. The consultation is free. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.934.3007 or via our website for a free consultation.