You are driving a boat and see another boat racing in from your starboard side. It looks to be a collision course, yet neither of you have yet slowed or altered course. One of you should, to avoid collision, but the other should hold course and speed. Doing otherwise could heighten the danger between your two boats and between you and other nearby boat operators who expect you to do the right thing. Which of you should slow or alter course?


Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

You are sailing in the harbor entrance and overtaking a slow powerboat from astern. Your friends tell you the sailboat has the right of way and the powerboat should avoid you. Is that true?

You see a boat go by, loaded with kids. It looks like 11 year olds are wearing life jackets and older ones are not. Is that the correct age break?

You are exiting the harbor and see that the dredge is working right in the middle of the channel. Only one side is safe to pass on and the dayshapes on the dredge tell you which side if you know what they mean. Do you?

You are driving a personal watercraft across the harbor entrance, just outside of the 5-knot speed zone. You’re dodging boats moving in and out of the harbor, relying on your speed. While out there you cannot resist jumping an occasional wake from larger vessels speeding up as they leave the harbor. What should you be cited for?

An oft-quoted and generally believed estimate is that mandatory boater education can reduce boating accident fatalities by 25 percent. That is hundreds of lives, nationwide. That doesn’t take into account the many hundreds of injuries and damaged boats, docks and other personal property. It is easy to make a case for mandating some level of boater education.

Some areas do have regulations about boater education. For example, Florida law requires boat operators 21 years of age and younger to successfully complete a boater education course in order to operate a craft on Florida waters. That state is giving serious consideration to expanding the requirement to boaters of any age because the value of boater education and the results of the lack of education on the part of older operators is making a strong case for expanding the law to include everyone.

I cast my vote for mandatory boater education nationwide. As a professional sea captain who spends a lot of time on the water, I am constantly amazed, constantly bewildered, constantly amused, constantly angered and constantly endangered by a discouraging lack of knowledge of boating rules displayed by boaters.

There are “rules of the road” that cover the situations above and any boater venturing offshore is responsible for knowing them. Boating safety organizations such as the U.S. Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary provide boater education. Go sign up. Them’s orders, Matey!

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit group providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

Capt. David Bacon, Noozhawk Columnist

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