Governor Martin O’Malley today signed a bill into law to strengthen protection of children on Maryland waterways. Under the new law, effective immediately, any child under the age of 13 is required to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) while aboard a vessel that is underway. The law will also require children under the age of 16 to possess a certificate of boating safety education before they can operate a vessel unless they are supervised by an adult or someone 16 or older who has a boating safety certificate, effective Oct. 1.
“As a State, nothing we do is more important than protecting the lives of our children,” said Governor O’Malley. “By raising the age at which a child is required to wear a life vest and improving boating safety education, this legislation will do just that.”
Formerly, any child under the age of seven had to wear a PFD on a recreational boat 21 feet or smaller, unless the boat is moored or anchored or the child is below deck in an enclosed cabin.
“We firmly believe this new legislation will help us prevent boating fatalities,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin. “Even one boating-related death is unacceptable. We are doing everything we can to keep our boaters – and our children – safe.”
The State averages 12 boating related fatalities a year. In 2009, Maryland had 17 boating related fatalities;16 of the victims were not wearing PFDs.
“A life jacket is the single most important piece of safety equipment, but it doesn’t work unless you wear it,” said NRP Superintendent Colonel George Johnson. “This law will provide an added measure of safety for our children boating on Maryland waters. “
Raising the age requirement puts Maryland in line with federal regulations and 34 states, including Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington, DC. The federal regulations do not supersede the state, but the National Transportation Safety Board strongly encourages states to update their PFD requirements.
The legislation was supported by the U.S. Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board, Safe Kids USA, National Boating Federation, National Safe Boating Council, National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, and the Marine Retailers Association of America.
Existing Maryland law requires that anyone born on or after July 1, 1972 must have a Certificate of Boating Safety Education in order to operate a mechanically propelled vessel on Maryland waters. NRP offers both in-person and on-line boating safety courses to receive that certificate. For more information go to http://www.dnr.state.md.us/boating/safety/basiccourse.html
The full bill can be viewed at http://mlis.state.md.us/2010rs/bills/sb/sb0092t.pdf