(April 5, 2019) Asserting that 15-horsepower outboard motors are unsuitable for use in the strong currents near the inlet, the Ocean City Council on Monday rejected a conditional use request from Fun Boat Rentals to operate a mini-power boat service south of the Route 50 bridge near Sunset Park.
Despite echoing similar safety concerns during its meeting on March 5, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend approval of David Whitley’s pursuit of permission to base a rental boat business in the bay just around the corner from the inlet.
Chairwoman Pam Buckley opposed the proposal and Secretary Peck Miller was absent.
Zoning Administrator Frank Hall said Fun Boat Rentals proposed to offer three Exhilarator model 101B mini-power boats. The two-person capacity boats are five feet across and 10 feet long, with maximum speeds of less than 25 mph.
Councilwoman Mary Knight moved to reject the Planning Commission’s endorsement and to deny the request.
“The current there can be 8-10 miles,” she said.
Knight said she was surprised the Planning Commission issued a favorable recommendation in light of the safety issues discussed.
“I’m making the motion [to deny] because of the area that he’s going to put it in,” she said. “I can easily see this boat flipping.”
Councilman Mark Paddack added that inlet area waters are highly congested all summer with both commercial and recreational vessels. He also compared the mini-power boats to JetSkis.
“If anyone hasn’t heard, we’ve got issues all summer long with JetSkis out there [with] near misses and hits,” he said.
Paddack said another red flag is that renters of the boats would not be required to complete a boater safety course.
“It’s not feeling good to me,” he said.
Councilman Tony DeLuca said the mini-power boats would sit less than a foot above the water’s surface and that, combined with the low-power outboards and strong tides, would make for a dangerous situation.
“The current is ridiculous,” he said. “The analogy I use, ‘it’s like a toilet flushing.’”
Councilman Matt James agreed the vessels would not be adequate for safe passage in the proposed location.
“You have other big boats throwing pretty big wakes and with a very small freeboard (the distance from the water’s surface to the deck) it wouldn’t take much for water to get inside of that boat,” he said.
James said the potential exists to strain emergency response resources.
Paddack said the outgoing tide is the greatest concern.
“When the tide is going out, there are breakers out there that are anywhere from 2-4 feet swells,” he said. “I’m all for the small businessman making a buck, but not at the expense of human life.”
Councilman Dennis Dare also highlighted the danger of not requiring a boater safety card to operate these watercraft.
“To rent to somebody that’s never been in a boat to go out in this location is just dangerous,” he said.
Councilman John Gehrig said much of the Planning Commission discussion concerned the merits of directing the boats north or south and conjectured the proposal might work if guides were involved to assist inexperienced boaters.
Paddack said even with a guide the location is, “horrendously dangerous.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres said in light of the unfavorable vote, the Planning Commission’s findings of fact would be revised for the council to approve at a subsequent meeting.