Safe boating effort gets a timely launch

Any dope can get a driver’s license. Judging by

the shenanigans you see on our public roadways these days, many of them do.

Boaters operate by a different – and even more lax – set of rules. As long as your activities on the water are recreational and not commercial, you don’t even need a license to zip around Puget Sound in a souped-up cigarette boat or pilot a posh motor yacht the size of the Queen Mary. But thankfully, that’s about to change a bit. Under a recent Washington law, most boaters in this state will have to demonstrate basic knowledge of safety and navigation to take the helm.

That effort gets a timely launch today at Waterfront Park, when the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 48 hosts its second annual Boater’s Fair, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to promote recreational maritime safety. And it promises to be a good show. The thup thup thup of a Coast Guard helicopter this morning will signal a dramatic “man in the water” rescue demonstration in Eagle Harbor, while Bainbridge Police will show off their new and very high-tech patrol and rescue vessel. Kayak and personal watercraft demonstrations are also planned. Across the park at the Bainbridge Commons, the Auxiliary will offer presentations on choosing the right life jacket and and in-the-water survival skills; radio communications, navigation and maritime “rules of the road”; the use of flares and extinguishers;an interactive mini-course for the youngsters called “Kids n’ Water”; and even a seminar on that oldest of old-salt skills, knot tying. Bring a lunch, or snack on hot dogs, chips and soda courtesy of Flotilla 48.

As noted above, all of this is leading up to new requirements for mandatory boater education. Beginning in January 2008, boaters age 20 and under must undergo a short course to earn a Washington State Boater Education Card that must be carried whenever operating a vessel. Each year thereafter, one more age group will have to take the course and earn the card. Operators 25 years and under must be certified beginning 2009; 30 years and under in 2010…you get the picture. By 2014, pretty much every boat operator 12 and older must be certified. The education card is a one-time requirement and is good for life. (Note: sailboaters are not exempt; the skipper of any vessel with a motor of 15 horsepower or more must take the course and show proficiency.)

As the citizen wing of the United States Coast Guard, the Auxiliary is one of several groups (the Agate Pass Power Squadron being another) that offers boater education seminars throughout the year. The next safety class is June 9 at the Commons, and costs $35. The Auxiliary also performs vessel safety checks to ensure that those who are certified are properly equipped for a safe boating season. The group maintains a website at www.kitsapcoastguard.org, or you can call Larry Kight at 780-0581. An explanation of the new requirements and other resources – including some sample safety exams whose rigor might surprise even experienced boaters – are online at www.parks.wa.gov/boating.

With some 272,000 vessels registered in the state of Washington – and a statistically high number of boating fatalities on our waterways each year – requiring basic safety knowledge on the part of skippers seems pretty reasonable.

Now if they could just make automobile driver’s licenses tougher to get, too.

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