Safety courses should be required

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 01/05/02)
By Ray Pendleton

Every year there are a few recreational boaters in Hawaii who, for whatever reason, head offshore without proper safety and communications equipment and eventually become the object of a major search and rescue operation.

Such operations often result in a huge expenditure of man-hours and revenue for the Coast Guard, as well as for fire department rescue teams.

Seeing this as justification for some sort of new law, our state legislature attempted to pass a resolution last year that would require all vessels operating more than a mile offshore to be equipped with either an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or a marine band VHF radio.

Because it seemed there were some unanswered questions about exactly who the law would apply to and how it would be enforced, the bill didn't pass.

Nevertheless, as the issue isn't dead and this year's legislators are sure to look at it again, here's a suggestion: Why not be really innovative and also require all owners of state-registered boats to take and pass a safe boating course?

Such courses, as presently given by the U.S. Power Squadron and the Coast Guard Auxiliary, are seen by insurance companies as so beneficial that they will often offer reduced-rate coverage to those who successfully graduate from them.

Taking one of these courses isn't difficult as they are conveniently scheduled throughout the year.

For instance, the Power Squadron of Honolulu will begin its next seven-session course on January 14, at 7 p.m., at the Waikiki Yacht Club, near the Diamond Head end of Ala Moana Park.

The classes begin with an introduction to boat terminology and design concepts, followed by elementary seamanship and boat handling. This includes instruction in casting off, turning and stopping, boating courtesies, anchoring and docking.

In later classes, students are taught various skills ranging from basic knot tying to troubleshooting inboard and outboard engines. They also learn the various international, federal and state boating laws and regulations, including those dealing with fire safety and pollution control.

Navigation rules and how to navigate a boat with the use of charts and aids to navigation are also taught, along with instruction on tides, currents and other ocean phenomenon.

Other classes are devoted to discussions on proper marine radio/telephone operation, EPIRBs and understanding marine weather, charts and forecasts.

Clearly, graduates of such a comprehensive course will be far less likely to be the subject of the expensive search and rescue operations our legislature is concerned about. So making them mandatory for boat owners could be the right thing to do.

To date nationwide, more than four million people, from teenagers to senior citizens, have taken this course. And, the best part is that it is free except for a nominal charge for instruction materials.

Of course, if learning safe boating procedures before it's required -- or even before you own a boat -- seems like the right thing to do, call the Power Squadron at (808) 846-9000 to register for the course.

Oh, and the seating is limited, so it's best to call soon.

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