The start of the official summer season began Memorial Day weekend at Delaware beach resorts, and state officials want to be sure that residents and visitors practice safe boating habits. Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), as well as state legislators Representative Steve Smyk (R-Lewes-Milton), and Representative Harvey Kenton (R-Milford), are working to raise awareness about boating safety.
According to the United States Coast Guard, nearly three-quarters of boating victims in the United States are drowning victims, and more than 80 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets. Delaware law requires that a life jacket be on board each vessel for each passenger. It is also required that anyone under the age of 12 be wearing the life jacket the entire time they are on board the vessel.
Delaware also requires that anyone born after January 1, 1978 must take a boating exam before operating a vessel in Delaware waters. The examination can be taken online, and a temporary certificate printed in order for the boater to immediately begin boating in Delaware waters.
According to Sgt. Gregory Rhodes, a boating education specialist with the Office of Boating and Safety Education, another issue that law enforcement deals with on the water is the consumption of alcoholic beverages by those driving the boat.
“The best way to minimize the risk of an accident is to make the wise choice – don’t drink and boat,” Sgt. Rhodes said. It is not illegal in Delaware for the boat operator to consume alcohol, but the same blood alcohol content limit used for measuring intoxication on the highways is used on the water.
Delaware Title 23, Chapter 23 §2302(a) states “No person shall motor, sail, row, operate, command or have actual physical control of any vessel or boat underway on Delaware waters” under the following circumstances:
(4) when the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.08 or more; or
(5) when the person’s alcohol concentration is, within 4 hours after the time of vessel operation, 0.08 or more.
This indicates that up to four hours after operating the vessel, a boat operator can be charged with Boating While Intoxicated. Currently, Delaware does not tie a Boating While Intoxicated charge to the boat operator’s driver’s license.
The United States Coast Guard says that alcohol use is the leading cause of fatal boating accidents, and that last year was the leading factor in 17 percent of all boating-related fatalities.