Boaters are a gregarious group. They will happily regale you with stories about adventures, idyllic cruises and enticing destinations. For generations, they’ve passed along key tips and information to new boaters either verbally or by example. That was a great way to learn how best to navigate Eagle Harbor traffic, liveaboards and the ferry’s comings and goings. Sometimes though, a newcomer’s boater education had some gaps.
Growing up I was a major fan of unlimited hydroplane racing. I loved boats that go fast – still do. So after a few years of piloting a small aluminum boat with a 5-horse motor we used for fishing off Battle Point, my parents bought me a small hydro and an outboard engine. This was essentially a piece of plywood with a transom. But before I tooled out across the waters of Manzanita Bay on the maiden voyage my father gave me some sage advice.
“Stay the hell away from anybody and anything,” he warned.
Turned out to be words I still boat by. Even so, I find it amusing that my basic boater education was distilled to a single sentence.
With the increased popularity of boating – there are more than 238,000 registered vessels in Washington and it seems half of them are operating around Bainbridge Island on any warm summer weekend – there was a need to formalize boater education.
Last year, the State Legislature passed a mandatory boater education bill that took effect last Jan. 1. Through a phased-in eight-year period ending in 2016, everyone born after Jan. 1, 1955 will have to pass a state-approved boating course to operate a vessel with 15 horsepower or greater. This year, everyone 20 years of age or younger have to complete a boater education course to comply with the law.
Fortunately, boaters are not up the creek without a paddle. There are a number of courses, both classroom and online, that meet the state’s requirements. Many accidents and difficult situations can be avoided by learning what to do in a given situation.
The boater education options range from online courses (free except for a $10 state boater education card) to for-a-fee online and classroom courses.
For a complete listing of state approved boating courses go to: www.parks.wa.gov. On the main menu click Boating Program then click Course Options (on the right). The Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District also offers free boating courses at: www.biparks.org/programs/documents/fullbrochure.pdf (p. 20) for more information.
While online courses often appeal to younger boaters, many first-time boaters prefer a more structured environment. Both the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons (USPS) offer in-depth classroom courses. There’s the opportunity to ask questions and share experience, which is invaluable.
The Agate Pass Sail and Power Squadron, an affiliate of the USPS, is offering the Squadron Boating Course, a classroom boater education course, beginning May 20 at Martha & Mary (19160 Front St.) in Poulsbo. The classes are held Tuesday and Thursday, 7-9 p.m. For information, go to the Agate Pass Sail & Power Squadron site: www.usps.org/localusps/agatepass.
Membership in the USPS offers the benefit of recreating with other boaters who have had many years of experience and will share their knowledge with new boaters outside of a classroom. The volunteer, nonprofit organization encourages and promotes safe, skilled handling and navigation of sail and power boats.
For example, inside Hidden Cove, after coming in straight down the “runway” you have to make a right turn to keep going. After doing so, off to the right is a rock that’s an obstacle at low tide. It is not marked with any day mark and is below the surface. There are also large rocks just off the shore in several places around the island.
While boaters usually discuss the upside of boating they can also dredge up examples of “bad behavior.” There are no bad boats but there are bad boaters. Safety aside, you certainly don’t want to be the subject of some old salt’s story about reckless actions. Best to take a boating course, especially as a refresher, to make sure you are up to speed.
And always wear a lifejacket. Always.
Mark Leader is a member of the local Power Squadron whose familiarity with Bainbridge Island waters goes back more than 40 years.