By Cheryl Costello
The week leading up to Memorial Day weekend is National Safe Boating Week, as many boaters get back on the water for the first time this season. On the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officers want you to be prepared for the unexpected.
To drive that message home, Bay Bulletin went on patrol with an officer who responded to a dramatic boat explosion in Edgewater this month that—thankfully—had a positive outcome.
Entering summer, more boats are underway on the Bay and as Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) remind us, it’s typically when accidents peak.
We were invited to ride along with NRP Cpl. Chris Neville on his mission of keeping boaters safe. Neville was dispatched earlier this month to a boat fire at Holiday Hill Marina off the Rhode River.
“The message is that accidents can happen when you least expect them,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like that fire.”
Neville says the owner of the 37-foot Monterey powerboat with inboard engines took all the precautions, but still couldn’t avoid a mechanical error.
“It appeared that the vessel had a fuel leak in the starboard engine and when the gentleman was trying to dock his boat it stalled out and he put it in neutral,” Neville says. “He hit the blower and when he turned the key there was an initial explosion. And it actually blew the engine cover approximately 40 feet in the air.”
The officer says it’s a good reminder that boaters are required to have a fire extinguisher on board. And with inboard engines, the best advice is to ventilate.
“Before you go out, you want to run the blower for approximately 5 minutes and every time you get fuel you would run the blower for about 5 minutes just to give all the gas vapors time to clear out of the engine compartments.”
Fortunately, the people on board were able to get off safely and were taken to the hospital as a precaution.
Police point to a checklist you can follow to make sure you’re legal and safe on board. During our ride with Neville, he stopped a skiff with a group of three fishermen and a child on it.
“I’ll just do a safety check real quick,” the officer told them. “I appreciate him [the child] wearing his life jacket.”
On a boat less than 21 feet, children under the age of 13 are required to wear life jackets. “Now I just need three life jackets for you, gentlemen,” says Neville.
The three anglers had the necessary life jackets on board but didn’t have a throwable device, a requirement for boats over 16 feet long. Neville also discovered the emergency flares on board had expired in 2019—a reminder to all boaters to check infrequently used equipment for expiration dates.
The anglers drove away with a warning, but boat operator Zac Klein wasn’t upset about it. He thinks it’s important information to have, “because people die on this Bay.”
Natural Resources Police say six people died last year in boating accidents, which is a downward trend from years past. But in each of the six incidents, the victim was not wearing a life jacket.
“If you already have your life jacket on, that’s just one less thing you have to think about in an emergency,” says Neville. He says boaters who have control of their safety and know their boat will have more fun on the water.
And you can get a safety check, too. Reserve officers will be on hand at Sandy Point State Park every Wednesday through Labor Day doing free safety checks before boaters get underway.