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6 boating deaths on Maryland waterways in 4 days

Rescue crew shares water safety tips
Posted at 5:57 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-04 10:15:54-04

BOWLEYS QUARTERS, Md — "We call it our Baycation, so we will be out on the bay until Sunday," said longtime boater Charlotte Frederick.

Whether you call it a Baycation or not, tons of people will be out on the water over the next few days to enjoy the treasures of the Chesapeake Bay.

"It's peaceful. It's more relaxing than anything I got going on," said boater Roger Williams.

"We will try to do some crabbing," said Frederick. "It's a lot of work, but it's peaceful."

It's a lot of work just to maintain the boat, but what can't be overlooked is preparing to stay safe.

"It's more complex than just turning the key and going out onto the water," said Marine Emergency Team 21 Chief Shannon Stallings.

The volunteer team is based in Bowleys Quarters and uses a new high-tech fire and rescue boat to respond to water emergencies around the upper Chesapeake Bay.

Since Memorial Day, they've had to rescue six people. Many were inexperienced kayakers.

"There's become more and more retailers on the water who have either rental outfits or places where you can learn to kayak or you can learn to paddle board, and that's great for exposing people to the treasures of the upper Chesapeake Bay, but sometimes those people without experience find themselves in a scenario where they don’t want to be. Maybe a storm blows up or the boating traffic increases around them," said Stallings.

There have been 11 boating-related deaths so far this year. An increase from 10 by this time in 2018 and three by this time in 2017, according to Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Six deaths were just in the last four days. The victims: two crabbers, a boat mechanic, a kayaker and two jet skiers. Stallings says in his 15 years conducing water rescues, he's never seen that many in such a short period of time.

"It drives us to make sure we are educating more," said Stallings. "We want them to know that we care, and we want to make sure that they are boating safely and that they can get home to their families at night."

His tips before heading out on the water:

"It's going to get very crowded out on the waterways over the next few days. Be mindful or your neighbors; be courteous when you're passing," said Stallings.

Have a float plan – "Where you're telling someone or leaving a note of where you're going, what time you plan to be back, what dock you're leaving from...what your route of travel is going to be and how many people are on board your vessel," said Stallings.

Conduct a quick briefing with all passengers on how to the work emergency systems in case something happens to the captain.

Inspect your boat – make sure you have plenty of water and enough life jackets for everyone. Life jackets should fit snugly but not restrictive, and it's best to wear them because you never know when conditions will change, weather-related or not.

"You can be the most experienced boater in the world, but you have to take into account for the person boating near you that may not be experienced. They might push a little too much ware or wave your way," said Stallings.

Stallings also said you should know where safe harbor is; where there is an alcove to wait out a storm or a pier to tie off to.

And finally, don't operate a boat while impaired.

"Only a fraction of the alcohol that may be what you deem your limit on land is what it takes for impairment on the water," said Stallings.

It's all about keeping people safe, and he hopes people put his tips into practice this holiday weekend.

"The perfect case scenario, we will not be out to rescue but we will be on patrol. We'll wander the waterways and we'll look for things like inclement weather to warn people about ahead of time," said Stallings.

There were 17 total boating-related deaths in 2017 and 2018.