Play it Safe on the Water

Accidents put such a crimp on summer fun

Memorial Day weekend puts us back in the water, where some of the best fun of summer is to be had.
    In its liquid embrace, our nature changes. From land-locked pedestrians, we become swimmers and skimmers. We recover a bit of the fluidity we had in our beginnings, in utero and in evolution. It feels good — as long as we’re afloat. But liquidity can go all wrong in a instant.
    As I saw last weekend, when husband Bill Lambrecht and I took an advance on summer. We boated safely to Oxford and slid like seals into the pool of a marina chosen, in part, because it didn’t make us wait another week to swim. At the beach on The Strand, kids were rushing into the Tred Avon. If any of us had cares, the water washed them away.
    Our return trip across the Bay reminded me how easily good times slip into bad ones.
    Out of the big waters in Herring Bay, we came on a wave rider who wasn’t having any fun. His craft had just been serviced, just gotten a new battery. But after a half-hour in the water, he wasn’t going anyplace. He sat on his fancy machine in lifejacket and wetsuit, rocking with the waves. Yes, he needed a tow.
    So we secured a line, tossed it his way and began our Rescue at Sea. It might have gone all right, had he not wanted to ride in the boat.
    Won’t it tip without you on it? I asked, and sure enough, it did. Its seat cover popped off, water streamed in, and in seconds, the small, heavy craft was sinking. The young wave rider jumped back in the water to spend a harrowing hour hefting, bailing and balancing. Eventually, he grabbed hold of the rear of the foundering craft and got towed through the water into the Deale Harbor.
    Good Samaritans abounded, with Richard Walton and the crew of Kenny Keen’s big fishing boat Southern Grins recovering the floating seat and, eventually, helping the weary and water-logged boater land his craft.
    It’s no accident that National Safe Boating Week leads us into the Memorial Day weekend. The more boaters on the water, the more likely good times will go wrong. Follow the announcements from Maryland Natural Resources Police, as I do, and you can compile an encyclopedia of the ways people get in trouble on the water.
    More often than not, the exuberance of buoyancy blinds us to the caution we need to be safe on the water.
    Everyone piles in, and nobody puts on a lifejacket. That’s how a young man died at the jetty in the Deale Harbor a few years back. You drink your way out and back, and a giant channel marker comes out of nowhere to smack you down. You can’t wait to fish, so you figure that small craft advisory doesn’t mean you.
    Trouble comes in simpler ways, too: you lean out too far, take a misstep, you’re in the water.
    You can do everything right and still get into trouble.
    Powerboat, sailboat, jetski, kayak, pier: you can get into trouble in, on or off any of them. That’s why National Safe Boating Week repeats a simple message: Always wear your life jacket.
    www.safeboatingcampaign.com is rebranding safety as fun; look at the video to see what I mean. I’m convinced. I’m buying a couple sets of suspender life jackets to begin this year’s boating season.
    As well as for my husband and myself, I feel responsible for you. Water runs through this week’s double issue in celebration of summer, in both our cover story, Summer Memories, and our Summer Guide, 101 Ways to Have Fun.
    Because I’m advising you of the many pleasures of water, I’m asking that you to play it safe while you’re on and in the water. Accidents put such a crimp on summer fun.