Dog days bring out boozing boaters

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In one case, an allegedly intoxicated skipper was unaware he had lost a passenger overboard

What was it about August and alcohol on the Chesapeake Bay this summer? The Maryland Natural Resources Police had some busy times during the “dog days,” rescuing boaters from themselves. Here’s a sampling from the Maryland NRP blotter. The bottom line is this: Alcohol plays a role in many boating accidents, so use prudence anytime you’re on the water.

The effects of alcohol or drugs are exacerbated on the water by prolonged exposure to the sun and other factors.

• Garrett County, Aug. 1: A Maryland Natural Resources Police officer was on routine patrol when he saw a boat pass within 15 feet of a fishing vessel at an estimated 40 knots. The sky was overcast and visibility poor. While attempting to follow the boat, the officer came upon a man in the water, calling for help. The man, 23, picked up about 300 yards from shore, was found to be highly intoxicated, disoriented, swimming away from shore and not wearing a life jacket, according to police.

The man said he had just fallen off a boat. The only boat in sight was the one the officer had been following, then a half-mile away and with only the stern light visible. The boat showed no indication it was turning around for its missing occupant. The officer and the man later found the boat on a lift, covered for the night, at a waterfront home. The people who had been on the boat were in the home. An investigation showed they did not realize the passenger had fallen off and was missing. The 41-year-old operator was charged with negligent operation.

“The people at the house were intoxicated,” says police spokesman Sgt. Art Windemuth. “They denied everything and insinuated that the officer made the whole thing up — and the person standing next to the officer is soaking wet.”

• Frederick County, Aug. 1: At approximately 5:45 p.m., police charged a 21-year-old with operating a vessel while intoxicated. The man was in a kayak on the Potomac River and was reported by a witness to be unconscious and floating down the river. Police responded. By this time the kayaker was paddling again, but the kayak overturned, and the man swam to a nearby boat ramp. Police say he had trouble standing up and was unsure of his location. He failed a field sobriety test.

• Worcester County, Aug. 7: At approximately 11:10 p.m., police responded to a report of a person in the water. They learned that the individual had fallen overboard from a northbound boat. The Coast Guard was able to recover the uninjured person. Police contacted the 52-year-old vessel operator, who was administered field sobriety tests and charged with operating a vessel while intoxicated, operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, and negligent operation of a vessel.

• Worcester County, Aug. 8: At approximately 7:20 p.m., police arrived as a grounded boat was pulled off a sandbar and into deeper water by a good Samaritan. Officers later saw the vessel run aground again on another sandbar. They pulled it off and asked the operator to submit to field sobriety checks. Another adult aboard was told to take the helm until the boat could be safely moored at Fisherman’s Marina in West Ocean City. Once there, the original operator, a 41-year-old, was taken ashore, underwent another sobriety test, and subsequently was charged with operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by any drug or combination of drugs and alcohol, and operating a vessel in a reckless manner.

• Cecil County, Aug. 8: At approximately 10 p.m., police responded to a report of an accident in which a 30-foot Bayliner struck a buoy on the Elk River. The 39-year-old skipper was charged with operating a vessel while intoxicated and operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol.

• Worcester County, Aug. 8: At approximately 4:30 p.m., police observed a vessel being operated in a negligent manner. After being administered field sobriety tests, the skipper was arrested and charged with operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and negligent operation of a vessel.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.

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