Boating regulations & liability laws in Maryland

Summer is in full swing, and that means the beautiful and bountiful waterways of Maryland – which include the Atlantic Ocean, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay – are teeming with recreational boaters. Whether you’re fishing, sailing, tubing, or just cruising, your boat has to conform to state laws and regulations, and you could be held liable if your negligence leads to an accident. In addition to knowing Maryland’s boating laws, always be cognizant of the latest weather and water conditions, the boaters around you, and your safety and that of your passengers. 

Maryland boating requirements

The laws of Maryland’s waterways are governed by the Department of Natural Resources, and you can find detailed rules and regulations here. Here are the basics:

  • Any person born on or after July 1, 1972, must have in their possession a certificate of boating safety education while operating a numbered or documented vessel on Maryland waters.
  • Anyone under the age of 16 operating a motorized vessel 11 feet in length or greater without a valid boating safety certificate must be supervised by an individual 18 years of age or older who possesses a valid boating safety certificate or an individual born before July 1, 1972.
  • Every boat is required to have a Coast Guard-approved PFD (life jacket) for each person on board. Life jackets must be in good condition, readily available, and the correct size for the wearer.
  • Maryland law requires the operator of a vessel to safely assist any individual in danger on the water.
  • When approached by a Maryland Natural Resources Police patrol vessel using a flashing blue light, the vessel operator, unless otherwise directed by the officer, shall yield the right-of-way, stop the vessel and stay in that position until the Natural Resources Police vessel has passed.
  • A boater whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher is presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. If a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs, they can also be found guilty of BUI (boating under the influence).
  • Boats must remain at 6 knots or slower when within 100 feet of another boat, pier, pilings, bridge structure, abutment, or people in the water.
  • You may not operate a boat where the water is less than 18 inches deep unless crossing or overtaking.
  • A boat may not come within 300 feet of a person swimming or fishing in the water.
  • A Natural Resources Police officer who determines that your boat is operating in an unsafe manner can direct you to take immediate steps to correct the condition, including returning to port. Termination for unsafe use may be imposed for, but is not limited to:
    • An insufficient number of U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
    • Insufficient fire extinguishers.
    • Overloading beyond the manufacturer’s recommended safe loading capacity.
    • Improper navigation light display.
    • Insufficient ventilation for tanks and engine spaces.
    • Fuel leakage.
    • Fuel in bilges.
    • Improper backfire flame arrestor.

What to do after a boating accident

The operator of any boat involved in an accident must stop, render assistance, and offer identification including name, address, and identification of the operator’s vessel.

An accident report must be made to the department within 48 hours if:

  • The accident causes the death or disappearance of a person.
  • As a result of the accident, a person receives medical treatment beyond first aid.

All other boating accidents must be reported to the Department of Natural Resources within 10 days if the damage is greater than $2,000 or there is a loss of a boat. Running aground or hitting a fixed or floating object is considered a boating accident and must be reported to the Natural Resources Police.  

Liability for boating accidents in Maryland

Liability for Maryland boating accidents is determined the same way it’s determined for auto accidents. Generally, the person who is at fault for the accident is held financially responsible for damages. However, Maryland follows the “pure contributory negligence” rule of fault. Meaning if you have any fault for the accident, you can’t recover any damages from the other party in a lawsuit.

 If you have a boating-related legal issue, contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today to schedule your free consultation. We’re here to protect your rights, and we don’t receive a fee unless we win.