The speed wasn't excessive, the maneuvering wasn't violent and the boat certainly wasn't overloaded - just two people in a 24-footer moving serenely down the Severn River. So the skipper and his wife were little apprehensive when the Coast Guard boat came alongside.
David Itzel calmed them with a cheerful "Good morning, how's it going?"
Itzel, 26, heads one of the six boating safety teams in the Boating Safety Detachment (BOSDET). When he stopped the motorboat it was the first of 30 or so inspections that would occupy him and partner William Paschal most of the day.
Itzel and Paschal dropped two fenders over the side and tied the boats together. Paschal, 21, went aboard. In five minutes he had run through his checklist and satisfied himself that all was in order. He thanked theskipper, gave himm a copy of the inspection form and stepped back onto the 19-foot utility boat he and Itzel get around in.
"Well," said Itzel, "maybe that's a good omen. We do about 500 inspections on Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from Memorial Day to mid-October and about 70 per cent of the time we find something wrong."
Stopped next was the 18-foot Lively Lady. Thomas Ross and his friend Howard Willet, both from Annapolis, seemed honored by the visit and pleased to have someone to talk to. Paschal, meanwhile, checked for a whistle and had a look at the fire extinguisher and the life preservers. He squeezed the preservers and pulled their straps to see if they were secure and tapped the extinguisher and checked its pressure gauge. Everything passed.
Itzel made the next inspection. The boat was a 30-foot cabin cruiser with an inboard engine. Itzel went below to find out if a flame arrester was attached to the carburetor and if there was oil in the bilge. He saw no violation.
But when he squeezed one of the life preservers you could hear air hiss. "Captain," Itzel said, "you've got enough good preservers for everybody on board. So I'd advise you to take this one off. In an emergency somebody might put it on - and find out too late it won't be much help."
What appeared to be the first violation of the day came next.August Rochel, 70, of Baltimore, was crabbing in his 14-foot rowboat. He had a buoyant cushion - all that's required in a boat that length - but he couldn't come up with his state registration.
Itzel was about to note that on the form when Rochel said, "Wati a minute there, Son. Let me try the tackle box." And from its miscellany there eventually emerged a grimy, wrinkled pouch, the registration inside.
"Strictly speaking, he registration has nothing to do with safety," said Itzel. "Still, the operator should have one and we always ask for it."
When he asked for it at the next boat, the skippers came up emptyhanded. The craft was Keewaydin, a Morgan 27 sailboat down from Perth Amboy, N.J., to compete in th MORC Internationals, and neither David Heal nor Jim Coupar, its owners, could produce a New Jersey registration.
Itzel wrote out a warning, then proceded to take the boat in tow, not because of the registration fault but because Keewaydin's outboard wasn't working well and there wasn't enough wind to sail it to the dock at the Shearwater Sailing Club, a mile up Spa Creek.
"That happens a fair amount," Itzel said. "Engines quit, run out of gas, boats go aground. We do what we can to help. Sure, we write a lot of minor violation notices and if there's something serious the captain can be fined up to $1,000 - or even jailed.
"But it's an educational thing really - educating boaters in the importance of a safe boat operated safely. That's why we're out here.