- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | As cold weather begins, the Coast Guard works to improve commercial boating safety.

In Operation Safe Catch, Coast Guard teams board watercraft to make sure commercial watermen and recreational boaters have the proper emergency gear.

Recently, Little Mo, Amos Jones’ 33-foot boat, was boarded just outside of Fishing Creek.

The Coast Guard crew was glad to note that Mr. Jones had what was needed: an immersion suit, an air horn, a 20-inch life ring with a 60-foot line and three day and night flares.

Mr. Jones, who was harvesting oysters, was given a receipt for the inspection.

This year, the Coast Guard is focusing on boats operating in the Chesapeake Bay and south. The proper gear can help save lives in emergencies.

“The problem still exists,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Brazzell of Sector Baltimore. “Our job as rescuers is to educate as much as we can in getting people aware of the dangers when getting in the water so that safety will never fall by the wayside.”

Maryland Natural Resources Police said there were 945 boating accidents from 2004 to 2009. There were 54 fatalities and 617 injuries.

The main causes for the accidents were equipment failure, inexperience and weather.

In October, the Coast Guard reminded boaters of the emergency equipment they should keep on board. Then boarding teams checked vessels for immersion suits, distress signals, fire extinguishers and other safety devices.

But when November hit, there were no more warnings. Commercial boaters found in violation were sent back to their home ports until they got the proper equipment.

Recreational boaters must follow the same rules, but there are only a few of them out on the bay now.

After the inspection is complete, the operator gets a receipt and the vessel information is put in the Coast Guard database.

The most common violation for commercial fishing vessels is a lack of immersion suits, which can protect a waterman from the cold water.

For recreational boaters, a common problem is boaters going out without sufficient personal flotation devices or life jackets, said Lt. Sara Wallace.

This is a reminder “not to get too complacent when the weather is like it is today,” said Lt. Wallace on a recent day with 60-degree temperatures. “The water temperature is still cold and still dropping.”

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