Time to Brush Up on Your Boating Skills

Boating education isn't just for the beginner.

Boat skills training

Even the sunniest summer eventually comes to an end, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop thinking about boating. Use the off-season to brush up on navigational skills, emergency procedures, and safety regulations. Nationally recognized courses geared to all ages and skill levels are now offered online, in the classroom, and through interactive CD-ROM formats provided by boating organizations and government agencies alike.

Training is important to the safety and well being of everyone on board. For boat owner-operators, there’s an added incentive: insurance companies frequently offer discounts on boat insurance to individuals who successfully complete a boating safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Do you know what this buoy conveys? USCG

So this winter complete an education and training course, get an insurance discount, and be ready to launch with confidence come spring.

Get the Basics

Those eager to purchase their first boat, or weekend boaters who take to the water in rented vessels, need a solid foundation of knowledge and skills to get started. In popular basic courses, important aspects of boating safety can be covered in just 8-10 hours of instruction that include a review of federal requirements. New boaters learn about required safety equipment, proper boat steerage, hull identification numbers, the various types of engines, sound-producing devices, visual distress signals, dock lines and rope, the types of knots and their uses, weather and tides, entering, loading and trimming a boat, as well as special information for operating personal watercraft.

Boaters also learn how to share the waterways safely with others. Unlike a new motorist driving on a highway, a new boater in open water sees no obvious lanes and traffic lights to signal when to stop or when it’s permissible to make a turn. There are rules and signals to ensure safe boating practices. A basic course can show you how to recognize them. The Rules of Navigation, available under “Regulations” at www.uscgboating.org is a compilation of laws and best practices to be followed by boaters. There are also buoys, day beacons, lighted structures, lighthouses, and range markers to mark the safest routes on the water. A basic boating course will tell you how to read these Aids to Navigation.

Most important, the basic course gives boaters a thorough review of responsible operating practices, such as wearing a life jacket at all times, never operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and operating at speeds appropriate to the waterway and traffic conditions. Following these simple practices can significantly reduce the risk of an accident.

Not Just for the Beginner

The point of boating education is not just to become a safer boater but also a better boater. For those more experienced individuals who are already well versed in the basics, the off-season is an opportunity to take classroom instruction on advanced navigation and charting, using the latest marine technology.

Many recreational boaters now use GPS receivers and perform electronic waypoint navigation. But although a GPS can tell you where you are in terms of latitude and longitude, it cannot show what obstacles may be in the way, or what to do if the GPS unit fails for any reason. Advanced instruction can help with both. Classes are available in most areas, either as one-day seminars or in multiple sessions over several weeks.

Volunteer organizations, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons®, and other boating groups offer boating education courses online, as do a variety of commercial providers. If you trailer your boat across state lines, you can also check the NASBLA website at www.nasbla.org to see what boating safety courses may be required from state to state.

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

For a First Mate not typically at the helm, there are even quick courses that teach them how to take command if the vessel operator should fall overboard or become suddenly incapacitated.

Good boating education teaches responsible boating practices that make the on-the-water experience safer and more enjoyable for everyone involved. So sign up, log on, and learn how! You’ll be doing yourself a favor and putting your passengers in more capable hands.

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.