A 73-year-old Laurel man died May 19 following a boating incident on Rehoboth Bay – a day after officials kicked off National Safe Boating Week.
The Laurel man, whose name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and extended family, had set out boating at 10 a.m. in a 16-foot Jon boat with a friend, another man who also has not been identified, said Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe of the Delaware State Police.
The two spent the day boating near the inlet, but hit choppy water near the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal as they returned. In addition to rough seas, Jaffe said, the wake from two passing boats caused the Jon boat to capsize. Sgt. Brooke Mitchell of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Fish and Wildlife Natural Resources Police said neither man was wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident, but they clung to the jackets in the water. The boaters also clung to the partially submerged boat. Jaffe did not say how long the men were in the water, but the 73-year-old man lost consciousness for unknown reasons.
Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Co. spokesman Warren Jones said firefighters from Rehoboth, Bethany and Indian River responded to East Side and West Side drives in Angola, but they were called off after a Good Samaritan boat pulled the two men out of the water. Jaffe said the men were taken to the dock at Angola Beach Marina located in the Angola Beach Mobile Home Park where the man was pronounced dead.
Ellen Driscoll, a boater and reporter with the Cape Gazette, said she saw a man lying on the dock when she passed by. “It was choppy on the water,” Driscoll said.
The man's body was taken to the Division of Forensic Science to determine a cause and manner of death.
“I can't confirm a drowning at this time,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said more information will be posted when available.
Up until the May 19 incident, there had been only two reported boating accidents in the state this year, and no related fatalities. Last year, officials said there were 36 reported boating accidents and two fatalities, making Delaware's rate one of the lowest for boating accidents in the country.
In addition to highlighting boat safety as the busy Memorial Day weekend approaches, DNREC started a Life Jacket Loaner Program May 20. In a partnership with Sea Tow Foundation, patrol boat officers will carry loaner life jackets for sizes infant to adult XL for boaters who do not have them. Life jackets will be lent to boaters who do not have the required equipment; those who receive them are expected to later return them, officials said.
“We’re excited to partner with the Sea Tow Foundation to make this Life Jacket Loaner Program available to boaters in our area,” said Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police Chief Drew Aydelotte. “This will help ensure that boaters of all ages have proper-fitting life jackets, which will go a long way toward keeping people safe while they’re out enjoying the beautiful waterways of Delaware.”