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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 5:21 pm | Fair 63º


Captain’s Log: Boater Safety Education Is a Gift of Life

Gifts this festive season will include boats, kayaks, jet skis, standup paddleboards and other forms of personal water craft (PWCs), all of which help get people out on the water, engaging in some exercise and enjoying nature.

I’m all for it because I really love to see folks on the water and focused on nature rather than sitting or standing staring intently into the depths of their iThings.

The gift of boater safety education would be an equally great gift to accompany a new vessel of any size or shape.

It would be unwise at best to buy a person their first car and send them out on the road without any driver’s education, without any DMV testing and without time spend with a daring relative who teaches the person to drive.

It is equally unwise to gift a water craft and send the new owner out on the water without any training regarding boating safety and the rules of the road which clearly define vessel rights of way on the water.

I am a firm believer in the value of boater education and I strongly feel that it should be necessary to show proof of successful training before a person is allowed to operate a boat or PWC.

As more boaters and PWC operators become educated about safety on the water and rules of the road such as rights of way, people will hopefully have fewer harrowing experiences and derive more enjoyment from their boating experiences. We are as yet nowhere near that point, I’m sad to report.

The reality is that it is far too common to have to relinquish my right of way on the water because another boater or PWC operator is uneducated and clueless about the rules of vessel interactions.

Situations become dangerous when a third and perhaps a fourth, fifth or more boat or PWC sets a course and speed that interferes with the rights of way of other vessels.

When the boat with the right of way is forced to alter course and speed to avoid a collision, a chain of events involving multiple vessels can quickly grow out of control.

Add to that the curious habit of casual kayakers and standup paddleboards to never look behind them or to turn, without looking, directly into the path of oncoming larger boats which must stay in the channel and we have a recipe for disaster.

Education and training would prevent some of these problems. The entrance and main channel in Santa Barbara Harbor is a classic example because when the weather is nice, it jams up with PWCs.

Boats have to navigate within the confines of the channel, yet people in PWCs meander all over the place, creating potentially dangerous incidents by leaving boaters without a safe course of action.

To try to help, the Waterfront Department put up signs throughout the harbor, informing people to keep PWCs out of the main channel, but those signs are not working.

What is needed is adult supervision in the form of uniformed Harbor Patrol officers in Harbor Patrol vessels working the main channel and harbor entrance to enforce the safety rules and to direct traffic.

I really don’t want to see deaths prove the need for this, yet I sadly believe that we are running such a risk.  

Thankfully, boater education is easy to find and fun to work through. The feeling of accomplishment and the comfort that comes from knowing the right thing to do (and not do) on the water makes the effort and expense a blessing.

If you are one who is gifting a boat or PWC, bless you, but please also give the gift of a safe boating course with the Sail and Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxiliary.

You might just save lives.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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