In Southern Maryland, recreational boating brings thousands of people to the area's waterways each year. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers this advice for being safe on the water:
* Make sure your boat is in top operating condition and that there are no tripping hazards or sharp edges exposed.
* Do not load more people or gear onto your boat than it has the capacity to carry (most boats have a capacity label). Keep the load low and evenly distributed.
* Wear personal flotation devices.
* When anchoring, bring the bow into the wind or current and put the engine in neutral. When the vessel stops, slowly lower the anchor over the bow. The anchor line should be five to seven times the depth of the water. Do not anchor by the stern.
* Fill portable fuel tanks off the vessel. Turn off engines and all electrical equipment, stoves and other appliances. Wipe up any spilled fuel immediately. Don't start the engine until all traces of fuel vapors are eliminated.
* Practice the "one-third rule" for managing fuel -- use one-third of the fuel going out and one-third to get back, and leave one-third in reserve.
* Check weather reports before leaving shore and remain watchful for signs of bad weather. Listen to the National Weather Service's NOAA Weather Radio. If a small-craft advisory is posted, get in to shore immediately because the winds will be too high to operate your vessel safely.
* Have a "float plan" -- tell a responsible friend or relative where you are going and when you plan to return.
* Be aware of your vessel's limitations. Many small boats, such as flat-bottom jon boats and canoes, tend to be unstable and capsize easily. Capsizings, sinkings and falls overboard account for 70 percent of boating fatalities.
* Standing or even changing position in a small boat can be dangerous. A wave or sudden turn may cause a fall overboard or capsizing.
* It is a common belief that people dressed in heavy clothing or waders will sink immediately if they fall overboard. This is not true. Air trapped in clothing provides considerable flotation, and bending at the knees will trap air in waders. To stay afloat, do not thrash about or try to remove clothing or footwear. This leads to exhaustion and increases the loss of air that keeps you afloat. Keep your knees bent, float on your back and paddle slowly to safety.
SOURCE: Maryland Department of Natural Resources
After the deaths of five people in the Potomac Gorge last year, officials from several agencies stepped up their efforts to alert people to the hazards of the river's whitewater. Some safety tips for visiting the gorge, roughly defined as the 14-mile stretch between Key Bridge and the Aqueduct Dam above Great Falls, include:
* Do not swim or wade in the river. All parts of the river, even areas that appear to be placid on the surface, have extremely strong currents and undertow.
* Stay off rocks at the river's edge. Several of last year's deaths resulted from people stepping onto rocks in the river.
* Fish only from the shore.
* Do not drink alcohol.
* If you find yourself in cold water, try not to panic. Keep movement to a minimum. If you have to tread water, do it slowly. This reduces heat loss.
* In swift water, point your toes downstream and try to get to the closest object, a rock or a log.
* The first hazards of cold water are panic and shock, which can severely strain the body. Cold can quickly numb the extremities, and cold hands may be unable to fasten the straps of a life jacket or grasp a rescue line.
SOURCES: Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, National Park Service