Perhaps you remember taking driver education classes in high school and having a parent or older friend teach you how to operate a vehicle safely on the roads, what to do in an emergency, and even how to park a car properly.
We can almost all agree that training provided us with critical training and skills needed to become even a marginally safe driver, and to pass our driving skills test with the Department of Motor Vehicles. In Florida, anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, who operates a vessel powered by 10 horsepower or more must pass an approved boater safety course and have in his/her possession photographic identification and a boating safety education identification card issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Any person who has access to a boat can get behind the wheel and drive and there is no legal requirement that the boat operator have any type of training or boater education. This may go a long way to explain why over 80 percent of boaters involved in fatal accidents have no training in boat handling and safety. Ironically, that training is readily available and, except for a small cost to cover the textbook and minor expenses, free from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Coast Guard Auxiliary boating courses are entitled “Boating Skills and Seamanship” and are offered at various locations in the Tampa Bay area. The classes are taught by certified U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary trainers, held one night per week, usually for about two hours a night, and last for 12 weeks. However, since they are offered continuously, you can begin at any time and come when you want. When you have completed each of the 12 classes, you will be awarded a certificate showing that you have successfully completed the course. Many insurance companies provide discounts to boat owners who have completed the course.
The subject areas of the “Boating Skills and Seamanship” course, that are discussed in detail during the classes, include the following:
• Information to help you determine what boat best suits your needs
• Equipment for your boat – required and recommended
• How to safely trailer your boat
• Handling your boat on the water
• Waterway highway signs
• Rules of the nautical road
• General boating safety
• Introduction to Navigation
• Powering your boat properly
• Lines and Knots for your boat
• Weather and boating
• Radio communication
There is a lot to learn about boating and boating safety and there are few better places to begin than with this approved Coast Guard course. Upon completion of the course, you won’t have all the answers, but you will have learned a tremendous amount and will almost certainly be a more informed and safer boater. New boaters will find this an excellent way to learn the basics of boating and boating safety, and experienced boaters can use it to hone their skills or as a good refresher course.
Again, many insurance companies will provide you with a discount on your boat insurance if you have successfully completed the course. For information on the closest course offered in your area, simply call 727-898-1324 and leave a message, including your return number and the area in which you live and you will be contacted with the information you need to become a safer boater.
If you enjoy spending time on the water in a boat, taking the course might save your life one day.
Loren D. Reuter serves as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Staff Officer for Public Affairs and Publications, Flotilla 7-2, St. Petersburg,