(June 28, 2019) With the upcoming Fourth of July holiday luring flotillas of recreational boaters to area’s waters, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources held a “Ride Inside” safety event this week aimed at discouraging bow riding by passengers and encouraging the use of life jackets.
Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio offered opening remarks during a press conference Tuesday morning at Bayside Boat Rentals, 5307 Coastal Highway.
“Safety is always our number one top priority,” she said. “The ‘Ride Inside’ campaign is designed to remind boaters that bow riding is not only dangerous, it is illegal in the state of Maryland.”
The boating safety session was produced with the U.S. Coast Guard and featured a trio of state legislators focused on fostering fun, not fatalities, on the water.
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) said the always vital message is particularly critical over the upcoming holiday weekend.
“We’re now through Memorial Day and we have a lot of people in Ocean City,” she said. “We’re coming up to a big Fourth of July weekend [and] this is a really important time … to remind everybody.”
Carozza stressed the importance of multi-agency support for the ‘Ride Inside’ campaign to be successful.
“This has been a true partnership,” she said. “This is the way government and the private sector is supposed to work together.”
Carozza praised Bayside Boat Rentals owners Jackie and Chad Cutlip for opening their business for the event and posting signs to promote the anti-bow riding messaging, while also acknowledging continued support from OCPD and the Maryland State Police.
“When we raise the visibility and just simply keep repeating, ‘ride inside,’ we’re talking safety and I am absolutely convinced … we will save lives this way,” she said.
Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38C) said the coastal area is blessed with an abundance of natural resources that “provide so much opportunity for fun. But at the same time, we need to act responsibly. One of the messages we wanted to get out is that part of a successful vacation is to return home safely.”
In addition to curtailing bow riding, Hartman said the safety campaign focuses on encouraging use of life jackets while on the water.
“These life jackets are so much more comfortable than the big orange ones when I was a kid,” he said.
Del. Carl Anderton Jr. (R-38B) admitted a lack of aquatic skills discourages him from unsafe practices on waterways.
“I’m probably the person least likely to ride on the bow of a boat and probably one of the few people from Crisfield who can’t swim,” he said.
Anderton related a failed attempt by his father to provide swimming “lessons,” when he was nine years old.
“My father tried to teach me to swim on the Chesapeake Bay on a tugboat heading to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore,” he said. “He grabbed me and threw me overboard [and] said the third time he saw me go underneath he had to go get me. At that point, I decided I would never attempt that again.”
Although expressing a personal preference to remain dockside, Anderton lauded past efforts by fellow state legislators to restrict bow riding.
“I want to applaud Senator, then Delegate, Mary Beth Carozza who championed this, along with former Sen. Jim Mathias, to make this a priority,” he said.
Coast Guard Master Chief Nathan Beach said the service has worked closely with Natural Resources Police to enforce the bow-riding restriction in recent years.
This safety campaign came to life in the aftermath of the August 2016 death of Kaden “JT” Frederick, 9, of Howell, New Jersey, who was killed after falling from the bow of a pontoon boat carrying 17 passengers back to Ocean City after a trip to Assateague Island. Frederick, who was riding with his legs dangling over the bow, fell overboard and was struck multiple times by the boat’s propeller.
“We feel like we’ve seen a slight improvement in the public’s awareness of this law,” he said.
Increased attention is being paid to boaters operating vessels under the influence of alcohol, which Beach said has spiked in recent years.
“We will be out doing a lot of patrols along with the Maryland Natural Resources Police to try and curb that,” he said.
Beach also echoed the messaging regarding use of life jackets, noting the safety attire should always be worn while boating.
“It’s busy [and] the water can be dangerous, so be safe,” he said.
Col. Ken Ziegler, superintendent of the Natural Resources Police, said although bow riding is still a problem, the Ride Inside campaign has reduced occurrences.
“This dangerous and irresponsible practice is certainly something that can lead to instant death if someone falls overboard from bow riding,” he said. “Boating fatalities in Maryland increased last year to 16, over the number of nine that we had the year before, so we are doubling down on our safe boating initiative.”
Ziegler said included with the safety campaign has been enhanced training for officers to spot the signs of boaters operating while impaired by alcohol.
“We’ll also be offering safe boating inspections at some of the public launch areas, if you have any questions if your boat is in compliance or has everything on board it should have,” he said.
Annual boat safety messaging always notes the importance of having, and wearing, life jackets, Ziegler said.
“Everyone on board a vessel on the waterways should be wearing a life jacket,” he said. “A device similar to this is the difference between life and death if you go in the water.”
Proactive use is the sole means to ensure a life jacket serves its designated, and namesake, purpose, Ziegler said.
“Trying to put this on when you realize you’re about to go overboard is the equivalent of trying to put on your safety belt when you realize you’re about to have a traffic accident,” he said.
Once a person has gone overboard, putting on a life jacket nearly impossible, Ziegler said.
“This is the difference between going home a little wet, and maybe a little embarrassed, or never going home again,” he said.
Ziegler said state requirements for water-based recreation vessels are outlined in a free booklet available at any Department of Natural Resources office or online at www.dnr.maryland.gov/boating.