A proposal that Maryland boaters be required to complete a safety education course before taking to the water is in danger of foundering on strong opposition from the maritime industry.

Opponents are questioning the need for mandatory boater education and say they don't believe the Department of Natural Resources can handle the education program if the bill sponsored by Sen. Raymond Beck (R-Carroll) becomes law.

At a Senate committee hearing last week, Beck called the uneducated boater "a menace to himself, his passengers and other boaters."

He told members of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee that since 1980, 131 people have died in boating accidents in Maryland and 388 people were injured. Many of those deaths and injuries could have been avoided if the operators had followed safe boating practices, Beck said.

He drew support from state natural resources police, who agreed that uneducated boaters are responsible for a high percentage of accidents.

But representatives of the maritime industry disagree sharply with that argument. They said most deaths result because boaters don't wear life preservers.

Mick Blackistone, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, said the bill would be disastrous to the state's growing charter boat industry.

Paul Foer, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Charter Association, told committee members that there aren't enough natural resources police to patrol tidal waters. He said the department could never handle the task of providing boating safety courses for the enormous number of Marylanders who operate boats.

"I see this bill as unenforceable," he said.

Beck's bill, if it becomes law, would require anyone operating a boat, which must be numbered under state law, to complete a boating safety education course approved by the Department of Natural Resources.

Sgt. Louis Ritter, boating safety officer for natural resources police, said the department can handle the large numbers of boaters who would have to complete safety courses and get their certificates.

Ritter said he didn't know how many people would be involved. There are, however, more than 140,000 registered boats in Maryland.