Boating Safety Course: Sign up, log on, learn how

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May 21-27 may be National Safe Boating Week, but we encourage all boaters to boat safe year-round. Follow along this week as we provide tips to help you stay safe while out on the water.

Written by Wayne Stacey, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist

Boat safety training is important for boaters of all experience levels. Statistics show that a greater percent of accidents involving fatalities occurred on boats where the boat operator had received no formal instruction on how to operate the vessel.

With the summer months approaching and many boaters already eager to get on the water, now is the perfect time to get a jump on the boating season by signing up for aboating safety course.

A boating safety course can help you brush up on navigational skills, emergency procedures and safety regulations.

Training is important for boaters of all experience levels. Statistics show that a greater percent of accidents involving fatalities occurred on boats where the boat operator had received no formal instruction on how to operate the vessel. The 2015 recreational boating statistics report that, 71 percent of boater deaths occurred on vessels operated by someone who had not taken a safe boating course.

This is why the Coast Guard gives education such a high priority – it has great potential to save lives.

Coast Guard personnel retrieve people in the water after their boat capsized. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Jim Robertson.Coast Guard personnel retrieve people in the water after their boat capsized. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Jim Robertson.

In addition to being a great life-saving tool, many insurance companies offer discounts on boat insurance to boaters who successfully complete an approved boating safety course. Also, more than half of all states now recognize the danger untrained and unqualified boat operators present- both to themselves and to others- and have enacted legislation for mandatory boater safety education as a requirement for boat operators.

The basics

If you’re eager to purchase your first boat, or if you’re a weekend boater who takes to the water in rented vessels, you need basic knowledge and skills before heading out on the water. In basic courses, important aspects of boating safety are covered, including a review of federal and state boating regulations, and instruction on how to respond to various emergency situations.

New boaters learn about required safety equipment, steering with a tiller and a wheel, hull identification numbers, the various types of engines, sound-producing devices, visual distress signals, dock lines and rope, different types of knots and their uses, weather and tides, as well as special information for operating personal watercraft.

Learn how to share the waterways with others

Unlike a new motorist driving on a highway, a new boater in open water will not see obviously marked lanes or traffic lights to signal when to stop or when it’s permissible to make a turn.

There are rules and signals such as buoys, day beacons, lighted structures, lighthouses and range markers to mark the safest routes on the water as well as a compilation of best practices and laws called the Navigation Rules, but for those boaters who don’t understand the system it can seem like a free-for-all.

Boaters receive a thorough review of responsible operating practices, like wearing a life jacket at all times as they would a seat belt in a car, never operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and operating at speeds appropriate to the waterway and traffic. Following these simple practices, much as you would when driving a car, can significantly reduce the risk of an accident.

The point of boating education, of course, is not just to become a safer boater, but to become a better boater.

Seasoned boaters can benefit too

A child dons a life jacket during a boating safety course. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Krystyna Hannum.

A child dons a life jacket during a boating safety course. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Krystyna Hannum.

The more experienced boaters, who are already well-versed in the basics, can take classroom instruction on advanced navigation and digital charting using the latest marine technology.

Today, many recreational boaters use GPS receivers and perform electronic, waypoint navigation. However, while a GPS can tell you where you are in terms of latitude and longitude, it can’t show what is around or beneath the boat, or what obstacles may be in the way. Advanced instruction on navigational charts and piloting can help.

Classes are available in most areas either as one-day seminars or in multiple sessions over several weeks.

Safety isn’t just for adults

Kids too can get in on the action. Several organizations sponsor special age-appropriate courses and websites where kids can learn a wealth of practical boating information in a fun interactive format.

For that significant-other not typically at the helm, there are even quick courses that teach them how to take command if the captain should fall overboard or become suddenly incapacitated.

You can check your local state boating office or the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ website to see what safety courses, if any, are required in your state for licensing or certification, as well as what state education courses are available.

Courses geared to all ages and skill levels are offered online, in the classroom and in interactive CD-ROM formats by boating organizations and government agencies throughout the country.

Good boating education courses teach responsibility and safe boating practices, making the boating experience more enjoyable for everyone involved. By improving your knowledge of boating and boating safety, you will be doing yourself and your passengers a favor.