Boat safety programs are pooling resources

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (02/26/00)
By Ray Pendleton

Periodically, I have advised Water Ways readers about the safe boating courses they could enroll in that would not only increase their boating skills, but could also decrease their boater's insurance.

These courses, offered by two very respected boating organizations, the United States Power Squadron (USPS) and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary (USCGA), were so similar in scope there seemed to be little or no advantage in advising one over the other. Because the USPS offered its course in Waikiki and the USCGA offered its in Kaneohe, it was really just a question of which was the most convenient.

As for the organizations themselves, the USCGA was formed in 1939 as a reserve force for the Coast Guard and later became its voluntary civilian component, primarily responsible for boating safety. Along with providing boating classes, its members also have provided voluntary marine safety inspections for boat owners.

The USPS was created in 1914 and is the country's largest private boating organization. It now has more than 65,000 members and has been responsible for educating over 3 million people in safe boating practices.

Over the years, each of these organizations has done an outstanding job in promoting safe recreational boating, but they have done it separately, until now.

In a recent press release from its national office, the USCGA announced that it has joined forces with the USPS to boost recreational boating safety. Together they are implementing a new, comprehensive and voluntary Vessel Safety Check Program, which will replace the USCGA's longstanding Courtesy Marine Examination program.

For those unfamiliar with annual vessel safety checks, they are made when a boat owner invites an inspector aboard to assess the vessel's federal- and state-required safety equipment. The inspector also advises of additional safety measures suggested by the USCGA.

All boats inspected and found to be in compliance with federal and state requirements are issued a special decal. And, I think it's not just a coincidence that boats displaying such decals are usually found to be the best operated and maintained.

Now, with the USPS participating in the Vessel Safety Check Program, the USCGA expects there will be a significant increase in the number of examiners available to serve the boating public.

Hopefully, this will translate to having safety inspectors available for most of Hawaii's larger fishing tournaments and sailing regattas. I also would think the USCGA anticipates the collaboration will result in a correspondingly significant decrease in boating accidents.

The two organizations plan to establish a national steering committee for the safety check program to ensure maximum uniformity and consistency of the vessel examinations. They also plan to periodically review the program and develop means of measuring its effectiveness.

Along with its association with the USPS, the USCGA is also planning to seek additional Vessel Safety Check participants and to develop grant proposals to help provide continuing funding for the program.

In all, this new strategy by the USCGA appears to be just what is needed for Hawai`i, in particular, where budget constraints curtail most state and local boating safety programs.

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