After a weekend in which three people died on Maryland waterways, the mission for the Maryland Natural Resources Police this July 4th holiday is simple: fewer boating accidents.

The game plan is direct: officers will be going all-out on the state’s waterways, from the Atlantic Ocean to Deep Creek Lake.

“Maryland has seen eight boating fatalities so far this season and that’s eight too many,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “Our officers will be aggressively targeting reckless and negligent boaters, and those whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs.”

Historically, more than half of Maryland’s annual total of boating accidents occur in July and August. Last year, Maryland recorded 130 boating accidents that killed 12 and injured 96.

As a dress rehearsal for July 4, NRP took part last weekend in Operation Dry Water, a nationwide campaign to curb alcohol- and drug-impaired boating.

Officers arrested six people for operating under the influence of alcohol and three for drug-impaired boating. In addition, they issued 87 tickets for other violations and conducted 727 vessel safety checks. Still, Maryland recorded four boating accidents, three of them fatal.

Navigating at night can be just as dangerous as boating in inclement weather. NRP urges boat operators to take several simply steps to ensure the safety of passengers and those in other vessels while watching fireworks displays:

  • Make sure there are a sufficient number of life jackets on board and that they fit well.
  • Designate a sober skipper to stay at the helm all evening and be responsible for returning the boat and its passengers safely to shore after the fireworks display is over.
  • Don’t overcrowd the boat. Heed the boat’s capacity plate on the transom or by the helm, or look up the passenger capacity in the boat’s manual.
  • Chart a safe course. July 4th is sometimes the first and only time people venture out on the water after dark. Visual navigation markers you rely on during the day may be invisible. Choose in advance the route to your fireworks-viewing spot and use a GPS to help you find your way.
  • Follow the directions issued by NRP, the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary and local police as to where you may safely anchor to view the fireworks away from sparks and ash.
  • Don’t be in a rush to get home after the fireworks display is over. Let some of the boat traffic clear out before you raise anchor.

“When it comes to safety, you are the first line of defense,” said Johnson. “By using common sense and following simple safe boating rules you can help NRP make this a safe and happy holiday.”