Riding a personal watercraft on a Sunday in July between noon and 6 p.m. in the waters of Anne Arundel County may be hazardous to your health, according to statistics released last week by the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
There were 215 boating accidents in Maryland in 1998, resulting in 11 deaths and 121 injuries, according to the Natural Resources Police. Forty-three of those accidents took place in Anne Arundel, the most of any county in the state.
Police said personal watercraft were involved in more accidents (91) than any other type of vessel. More accidents took place on Sunday (68) than any other day, and the majority of accidents took place in the afternoon.
Those statistics highlight the need for more public education about boating and water safety, particularly for personal watercraft users, according to the Natural Resources Police, the Coast Guard and boating safety groups.
"Anne Arundel is one of the heaviest traveled, if not the most heavily traveled, boating areas in the state," said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources. "It's not surprising that it has the largest number of accidents. City Dock, the Severn River and the South River are very congested."
While the number of accidents, fatalities and injuries on Maryland waters has fluctuated in recent years, the long-term trend seems to be positive.
The 11 fatalities in 1998 were nearly double the six recorded in 1997 but nearly two-thirds less than the 31 boating deaths reported in 1991. Last year's 121 injuries were a third more than the 80 that occurred in 1995, but substantially less than the annual average of 157 injuries reported from 1991 to 1993.
McIntire credited safety education and tighter enforcement of the state's Operating While Intoxicated law for the overall decline, but he cautioned against complacency. He noted that there already have been four fatal boating accidents in Maryland waters this year, "an alarming trend."
The Coast Guard and the state maritime police have been paying special attention to users of personal watercraft, often known by their brand names of Jet-Ski or Sea-Doo. These machines represent the fastest-growing segment of the recreational boating world. Natural Resources Police research has found that up to 90 percent of personal watercraft users had no formal boating training.
"People are starting to learn that just because you can afford a Jet-Ski, that doesn't mean you can just get up on one of them and go," McIntire said. "You've got to learn how to handle them safely."
The Natural Resources Police and the Bombardier Motor Corp., a leading manufacturer of personal watercraft, have developed a water safety campaign that includes a short video and an 11-question quiz.
More traffic on Maryland waterways also creates greater opportunities for accidents, said Lt. Todd Offut, supervisor of safety and security for the U.S. Coast Guard in the Port of Baltimore area.
"In the past 2 1/2 years, we've had a 9.6 percent increase in the number of organized marine events on the waterways we cover," increasing the potential for accidents, he said.
"The key is wearing a personal flotation device," McIntire said. "It's that simple." Six of the 11 victims in last year's fatal accidents were not wearing life jackets, he said.
"Even if you're not the captain of the boat, passengers should get some safety education," he said, citing several incidents in which passengers had to assume the helm of lost or endangered vessels.
Boaters also should always file a boating plan with their marina and bring a radio or cellular phone for emergency communications.
"You never know what's going to happen. The way to be prepared is to be educated," McIntire said.
The following boating and personal watercraft safety education courses are being offered in Anne Arundel County this summer.
Anne Arundel Community College: June 14, 16, 21, 23; July 19, 21, 26, 28. Classes at 6:30 p.m. each day. For more information, call 410-541-2243.
Glen Burnie Center: June 15, 17, 22, 24. Classes at 6:30 p.m. each day. 410-541-2243.
Tawes State Office Building: June 14, 18, 21; July 5, 9, 19, 23, 26. Classes at 7 to 10 p.m. each day. For more information, call 410-222-6244 or 410-757-0680.
Downs Park: June 5, 7, 12; July 17, 24. Classes at 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. 410-222-6230.
Quiet Waters Park: June 22, 23; July 17, 24. Classes at 6 to 9 p.m. each day. 410-222-1777.
Annapolis Recreation and Parks: June 22, 23; July 13, 14, 27, 28. Classes at 6:15 p.m. each day. 410-263-7958.
CAPTION: City Dock in Annapolis is among the most congested boating areas in Maryland. Of the 215 boating accidents in the state in 1998, 43 occurred in Anne Arundel County.