The Washington Times - July 14, 2009, 09:58AM

A week or so ago, the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) charged an Annapolis resident with operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and failing to display proper navigational lights between sunset and sunrise.

The incident occurred in Back Creek Anne Arundel County.


Only days before, the NRP charged a Pennsylvania visitor with operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and negligent operation.

The arrest occurred on Deep Creek Lake near the Glendale Bridge.

Accounts of drunk waterborne drivers are especially numerous during the summer because that’s the time of year everybody who owns a craft that floats wants to be on local rivers, lakes, the Chesapeake Bay or Atlantic Ocean.

But where is it written that you have to be impaired when handling a floating vehicle that can be surprisingly fast? (Some high-powered bass boats and recreational vessels can go 70 mph and more.)

Try going only 30 mph in a boat and approach a dock or other area you want to visit, slip the boat transmission into neutral and see if it stops on a dime. No chance of that happening. The number of untrained boaters who have no inkling of how hard it can be to properly steer, estimate stopping distances, or understand the dangers of improper boat handling is astonishing.

As someone who fishes and boats more than the average American, I see things that occasionally have my hair standing on end.

I remember a fellow and his family who rented a cabin cruiser, learned only the basics of boating (such as how to turn the ignition key) and steering it out of a marina slip. This man came south on the Potomac River at a high rate of speed and promptly ran into the well-marked and highly visible Hawks Nest Buoy, just north of the Port Tobacco River. The buoy is surrounded by a ring of huge boulders. Imagine what those stones did to the fiberglass hull of the boat.

After being rescued and his family members treated by a medical crew, the man was arrested. The charge: Driving a boat while impaired by alcohol.

The demand by some local jurisdictions to force boaters to take a driving and boat handling test before being issued a special boat drivers license is increasing. But it will never stop drunks from sitting behind the wheel.

By the way, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has begun to phase in Virginia’s boating safety education requirement and wants to remind boaters that now all operators ages 14 to 20 of personal watercraft (PWC) including Jet Skis, Sea Doos, and other PWCs will need to have proof of a boating safety course completion onboard while operating the vessel.

PWC operators must be at least 14 years old. It is unlawful in Virginia for anyone under the age of 14 to operate a personal watercraft. To find out more about the boating safety requirement, the rest of the phase-in for Virginia boaters, or to find a boating safety course, visit the Department’s webpage: