Hitting the water for the Fourth of July? Md.’s Operation Dry Water aims to keep the fun in check

Scorching hot weather in the forecast, along with a long holiday weekend and fireworks over many area waterways, means lots of people will be out celebrating on boats this weekend.

In fact, the Fourth of July is always the busiest boating holiday of the year in Maryland. And the state’s Natural Resources Police will be out in force this weekend making sure everyone on the water is enjoying themselves responsibly.

“Operation Dry Water” runs Thursday through Saturday, with saturation patrols out on waterways throughout the state of Maryland — and not just in the busiest and biggest ones.

“Alcohol is the number one leading factor in fatal accidents across the country,” said Acting Maj. Melissa Scarborough, with Natural Resources Police. “So we aim to reduce the number of fatalities on the waterways by reducing the number of impaired boaters.”

So if you’re out on the Chesapeake Bay, or the Potomac, Patuxent or even the coastal bays near Ocean City or Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, don’t be surprised if you’re on the receiving end of a vessel check.

“Everything that you do on the water is much more complicated than being behind the wheel,” Scarborough said. “I think sometimes people think because you’re out having a good time on a boat, that it doesn’t carry the same responsibilities as it does for getting behind the wheel of a car, and that’s just not true.”

She added that passengers on a boat aren’t secured with a seatbelt like they would be in a car, and there isn’t a protective cage surrounding them, as is the case in modern cars, “so people get much more significantly injured.”

Scarborough also urged people who are out on the water to be careful if they jump in for a swim. Lately, it hasn’t been boating accidents, but swimming accidents that have kept NRP officers busy on the waters.

On June 16, several people were swimming off of an anchored vessel in the Whitehall Bay area in Annapolis, between the Bay Bridge and the mouth of the Severn River, when one swimmer started showing signs of distress and went underwater. The swimmer submerged and resurface several times, according to Scarborough. It took divers from the Anne Arundel County Fire Department to find the body.

“Open water is not the same as swimming in a swimming pool. If you go out and get in the Chesapeake Bay, or one of the tributaries, it’s going to have tide, wind, it’s going to have waves that are produced from boats that are passing by,” Scarborough said. “All those things are factors that make it more difficult for people to swim.”

She urged everyone who goes boating, even if they’re swimming next to an anchored boat, to wear a life jacket. And anyone on a boat smaller than 21 feet who is also under the age of 13 is required by law to wear one at all times.

If you’ve been drinking and you’re caught behind the wheel of a boat, you can face a year in prison and the loss of your boating license.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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