By Willie Howard
Maybe you’ve been boating for years on the Atlantic and inshore waterways of South Florida.
Even though experience is helpful, it doesn’t mean you have the education you need to be a competent boater.
Florida law requires only those boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, to take a class and hold a state boating safety ID card to operate a powerboat with 10 or more horsepower. But statistics show older boaters cause plenty of trouble on the water.
According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the boat operators most likely to be involved in accidents are middle-aged (or older) men who have boating experience but have never taken a boating safety course.
The good news: Older boaters are taking basic boating courses and receiving their boating safety ID cards, even though they’re not required to do so.
About a third of the 47,307 boating safety education ID cards issued by the state last year were to boaters born before 1988.
“Regardless of whether you’re new to boating or an old salt, it’s a good experience,” said Brian Rehwinkel, the FWC’s boating safety outreach and education coordinator.
A side benefit: Many boat insurance carriers offer discounts to boaters who have taken an approved class and received a boating safety ID card.
Volunteers with the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Flotilla 36 in Boca Raton and Flotilla 54 in Boynton Beach offer the basic About Boating Safely Class monthly, meaning boaters who want to earn their Florida boating safety ID cards and improve their boating skills can do so in a one-day class offered on Saturdays.
During the Oct. 7 class at Spanish River Park in Boca Raton, instructors with Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36 added helpful tips to the basic course material and spiced up the instruction with humorous tales from the water.
Instructor Rob Lambie of Delray Beach, a veteran Florida boater who sails his boat to the Bahamas, told of the men who come to boat ramps on busy weekends just for entertainment. They watch how boat owners handle the backing, launching and loading of their boats. If you’re not prepared, you could be their entertainment.
Lambie’s trailering tips included driving the route to the boat ramp without a boat in tow just to check for low-hanging trees and tight turns that could pose problems and to watch how seasoned boaters launch and retrieve their boats.
In addition to trailering, the one-day class touches on a wide variety of boating topics, including terminology, collision avoidance, VHF radio operation, tides, channel markers, anchoring, how to handle emergencies and safety gear. Students take home the About Boating Safely booklet to keep for future reference.
Flotilla 36 Cmdr. Mario Stagliano said about 150 students have taken the basic boating class at Spanish River Park this year.
About a third of the Boca Raton students are teens who must earn boating safety ID cards to operate a powerboat, Stagliano said. The rest are the parents of teens taking the course, along with older boaters who want to refresh their boating knowledge.
The need for boating education is clear, with 714 reportable boating accidents in Florida last year resulting in 67 deaths, 421 injuries and more than $10 million in property damage.
The two leading causes of Florida boating accidents last year, according to the FWC: inattention or failure to maintain a proper lookout, followed by lack of experience by the boat operator.
More than half the boat operators involved in Florida boating accidents last year — 60 percent — had no formal boating education.
Coast Guard Auxiliary helps Hurricane Maria survivors housed in Weston
Mario Stagliano, left, and Jim Goldasich of the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36 in Boca Raton helped the family members of active Coast Guard personnel stationed in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. The families were flown to South Florida and stayed at the Bonaventure Resort & Spa in Weston. Photo provided
Members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36, based in Boca Raton, spent weeks helping the families of Coast Guard personnel stationed in Puerto Rico following the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria.
About 350 Coast Guard family members, including several mothers with small children, were flown to South Florida on military aircraft following the late September hurricane and housed at the Bonaventure Resort & Spa in Weston.
Flotilla Cmdr. Mario Stagliano and three other members of the flotilla — Jim Goldasich, Stephen Rogers and Ardalan Montazer — drove vans carrying the displaced family members around Weston, helping them shop for clothing, cellphones and other supplies.
Stagliano said members of the Boca Raton flotilla also contributed supplies to a free store established for the displaced families at the Weston hotel and chipped in $650 to buy Walmart gift cards that were given to the families.
Delray Beach Surf Festival
The fifth annual Delray Beach Surf Festival is scheduled for Dec. 2, on the beach east of Nassau Street.
Set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the festival will feature surfing and tug-of-war contests, stand-up paddleboard races and other fun competitive activities, organizer Sven Mautner said.
“It’s a great, local family event, and we’ve been really lucky to have had decent surf for all prior contests,” said Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein, a lifelong surfer who judges the contest.
Registration costs $25. Delray Beach Ocean Rescue will use proceeds from the festival for its children’s programs.
Photos and video clips from previous festivals can be found by searching Facebook for the Delray Beach Surf Festival.
Fort Lauderdale boat show
The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show continues through Nov. 5 at seven waterfront locations, including Bahia Mar Yachting Center, the Broward County Convention Center and Pier 66 Marina.
The 58th annual show features nearly 1,500 boats on display along with electronics, fishing gear, nautical art and clothing. Fishing seminars for adults and youths as well as on-the-water boat handling workshops are offered.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., except on Nov. 5, when the show closes at 6 p.m.
Tickets cost $29 for adults, $12 for ages 6-12. Children younger than 6 are free.
For more information, call 800-940-7642 or go to www.flibs.com.
Nov. 4: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Fee is $35 for adults or $20 ages 12 to 19. Register at the door. Bring lunch. Call 391-3600 or email email@example.com.
Nov. 25: Boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the classroom next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Fee is $25. Register at the door. Call 704-7440.
Tip of the month
Not sure whether your boat has the required safety gear? Schedule a free vessel examination with the Coast Guard Auxiliary — either Flotilla 36 in Boca Raton or Flotilla 54 in Boynton Beach. In most cases, vessel examiners will meet you at your boat to check distress signals, fire extinguishers, life jackets, running lights and other safety equipment. Examiners often find small deficiencies that owners overlook.
To reach Flotilla 36 in Boca Raton, call 391-3600. To reach Flotilla 54 in Boynton Beach, call 331-2429. Leave a message if necessary.
Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at tiowillie@ bellsouth.net.