May 22, 2024

Water-related Deaths Prompt Pleas to Wear Life Preservers

Governor Martin O’Malley and the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) are urging boaters, park patrons, and anyone planning to spend time on the water to make safety their first priority. There have been six water-related deaths so far this year, including two in St. Mary’s County off Point Lookout State Park.

Looking toward the Atlantic from Point Lookout State Park. Photo by Tim Evanson

Looking toward the Atlantic from Point Lookout State Park. Photo by Tim Evanson

“The Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Coast Guard work tirelessly to educate people about this serious issue year-round ─ especially during the summer months ─ yet we continue to lose lives on our waterways,” said Governor O’Malley. “I am asking every single Marylander to heed and share this message: Wearing a life preserver when recreating on our waterways can make the difference between life and death, whether you return to your family at the end of the day or not. Even if you are just taking a dip, it is easy to misjudge the depth of the water or strength of the current. By putting yourself at risk, you are also putting friends, family members, and bystanders that try to help you at risk. Think about it and act accordingly.”

Last year alone, Maryland had 11 boating deaths, and 24 in 2011 ─ nearly double the 10-year average of 13. Nationwide, approximately 75 to 80 percent of boating deaths are due to drowning, many of which could have been prevented with the use of a life jacket.

Nationwide, approximately 17 percent of boating fatalities result from alcohol use. Last year in Maryland, 124 alcohol-related charges were placed against boaters. Throughout the summer, NRP officers will be out in force looking for boaters whose blood alcohol content exceeds the state limit of .08. The maximum penalty for operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol is a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for the first offense.


  • Wear a life jacket when out on the water. Quite simply, they save lives. All children under the age of 13 are required to wear a certified life jacket aboard a boat less than 21 feet long;
  • Never boat or swim alone or while impaired. The sun, wind, and water can cause fatigue in boaters and swimmers. Alcohol use magnifies this fatigue, impairs judgment, and can lead to accidents and death. Boat and swim safe, smart, and sober;
  • Check weather and tides before heading out. Anticipate changes and bring all craft ashore when rough weather threatens. Wait at least 30 minutes before resuming activities after the last incidence of thunder or lightning;
  • Pay special attention to small children and always use safety devices on children or other individuals who cannot swim;
  • Obey all warning signs that alert swimmers to dangers and be aware of any surrounding signs or markers that indicate current water conditions; and
  • Carry a cell phone or have other ways of contacting emergency personnel if a situation arises.

If an emergency occurs, immediately call 911 and remember to Reach, Throw, Row and Go:

REACH the person in trouble by extending a releasable item, such as a pole, line or rope to pull them to safety, but not by hand as the rescuer could quickly become another victim.

THROW an object that floats to the victim if they are unreachable. A life ring, lifejacket, cooler, or plastic jug are suitable floating objects that can keep a troubled swimmer afloat until rescue arrives.

ROW to the victim, using a canoe or any other safe watercraft. The rescuer must wear a life jacket. Once the victim is nearby, a rope or paddle should be extended and used to tow the victim to shore if possible.

GO find help or yell to get other people’s attention and have someone call 911.

Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources
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