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Cape Coral Living Magazine

Be Wise on the Waves: Keeping Families Safe While Boating in Southwest Florida

Apr 25, 2018 09:41AM

One of the most enjoyable ways of experiencing nature and making memories that can last a lifetime is when the entire family goes boating. The time spent exploring the beauty of Southwest Florida waterways helps families strengthen bonds and promotes a healthy respect for marine life and wildlife not seen or rarely seen on our familiar terra firma.

Before considering family boating, you must have a strong commitment to the understanding and education of boating safety—especially when it comes to keeping young children safe in and around the water. Jill Berger, administrative officer for the Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron, knows just how important education can be when traversing the complicated waterways of our region.

“When my husband, Kenny, and I moved to Cape Coral in 2016, we knew the waterways here were much different than the lakes back in our home state of Kentucky,” Berger explains. “Here, it is imperative to know and understand the channel markers and other aids to navigation to help prevent running aground.

“Wind and tides can drastically change the water levels and conditions. So it is crucial to follow the nautical rules of the road to prevent a collision,” she adds.

A recreational power boater since 1978, Berger grew up in Louisville and cherishes memories of family outings on the Ohio River every summer weekend. Her father, a Navy veteran, would let her take the helm of their cabin cruiser on occasion—all with the purpose of teaching her proper safety measures, how to be a good mate and to instill a lifelong love of boating.

Those are the traits and experiences she brings to her position with the local squadron. “Our family has owned and operated runabouts, ski boats, fishing boats and pontoons for many years,” Berger says. “In the early ’80s, we took the safe boating course offered by the Louisville Power Squadron. 

“Although we had been boating for a few years, we learned a great deal of very useful information that has served us well through the years we spent boating on Kentucky's beautiful lakes. We raised two children on the water and taught them to be smart, safe and competent boaters.”

The Bergers immediately signed up for safe boating courses again when they moved to Cape Coral. They followed that up with seamanship courses and continue today as proud members and ambassadors for the squadron.

Steve Parris, an executive officer at the squadron, knows firsthand that its safety courses help to protect each member when on board. “We offer classes in basic boating knowledge through celestial navigation,” he notes.

“These courses include equipment required by regulation, navigation rules, the right of way and how to operate in the vicinity of other vessels. The captain of a boat is responsible for the safety of his vessel and to operate safely around other vessels. These courses will provide an individual with the knowledge needed in keeping their families safe while boating.”

Chartered in 1964, the Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron, or CCSAPS, is a unit of the United States Power Squadron that was founded in 1914. The club's primary local objective is the promotion of boating safety through education. It provides free vessel safety checks for the public, loans life jackets to adults and children, and holds many recreational activities and events for members—on land and on the water.

Berger offers the following safety tips regarding captain duties and related points to consider for all who board a vessel. The info is given to new graduates of the America's Boating Course available at CCSAPS:

—Be sure your boat has all necessary safety equipment and all systems (engine, lights, navigation, radio) are operating properly. CCSAPS offers free vessel safety checks to assist boaters in meeting these requirements. Ensure you have the appropriate types of anchors and lines for your expected trip.

Safety equipment includes appropriately sized life jackets that are easily accessible for all on board. Children under 13 years of age are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket unless below deck or in an enclosed cabin. CCSAPS and marinas offer loaner life jackets.

—Check local weather conditions before leaving home and again at the dock.  Weather can change quickly. Websites such as nws.noaa.gov and weather.com, and smartphone apps such as Windfinder and NOAA Marine Weather Forecast are helpful tools. Keep a watchful eye on the sky while out on the water.

—Know your boat's fuel capacity and fuel level. Plan to use no more than a third of your fuel capacity getting to your destination and a third getting home, leaving a third for unexpected situations.

Note that fueling a boat is potentially hazardous. Be sure not to confuse the fuel, water and holding tanks when preparing to add fuel. Pay close attention to avoid spilling fuel on the boat or in the water. Turn off anything electrical and do not allow smoking within 50 feet of the fuel point. It’s recommended that passengers get off the boat while refueling. Always run blowers and smell the engine compartment for gasoline fumes before starting the engine.

—Plan your trip and familiarize yourself with the route and navigation markers before leaving the dock. Navigation systems, charts and GPS are useful tools. File a float plan with someone ashore, and include your intended destination and how long you expect to be out on the water.

—Conduct a safety briefing before leaving port. Instruct passengers on the location of life jackets, throw-able floatation devices, fire extinguishers and other safety equipment, as well as emergency procedures. Give direction on where to stow personal items, safe movement while the boat is under way, and proper disposal of waste. Make sure someone other than the captain knows how to use the radio, navigation system and emergency equipment.

—Mind the rules when on the water. Learn which boat has the right of way. If someone falls overboard while the boat is moving, have a responsible person keep that person in sight at all times while the captain turns the boat around.

CCSAPS spokesman Ted Blomquist encourages all interested boaters to take the America's Boating Course, which teaches basic boating skills. The course is recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard and graduates receive a Florida State Boating Safety Education ID.

“Our instructors strive to educate new and experienced boaters about the unique characteristics of boating on the Caloosahatchee River, the Gulf of Mexico, Pine Island Sound and the many bays and inlet waterways in Southwest Florida,” he explains.

But even the best of captains can sometimes run into trouble. Blomquist says that running aground is very common in our area’s shallow waters. When it happens, he recommends turning off the engine immediately. Most of the time boaters can push the vessel off the sandbar. In worst-case scenarios boaters may have to wait until the tide comes back in—or call Sea Tow or BoatUS for assistance.

“As the captain of a boat, you are responsible,” Blomquist emphasizes. “You and you alone are responsible for your passengers and boat. That is why we strive with our courses to give you all the skills and tools necessary for a safe and enjoyable boating experience for the entire family.”

To learn more about how to keep your family safe on the water, and the courses offered at Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron, visit ccsaps.org.


Tips for Boaters of All Ages

  • Mind the captain at all times! He or she is the boss!
  • Children under age 13 must keep U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets on at all times, unless they are in an enclosed cabin or below deck. Pool floats, water wings and toys are not appropriate substitutes.
  • Take plenty of sunscreen and apply it regularly. 
  • Take plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Take food that is simple to eat on a boat. Wind and waves can make plates and cups impractical.
  • Contain your trash. Do not allow bottles, cans, plastic bags or other trash to blow out of the boat.
  • Never swim behind the boat when the motor is running. Water shoes are advisable if swimming in shallow water, to avoid cuts from shells, barnacles or coral.
  • Have a first aid kit and simple tools such as a pocket knife.
  • Have fun! Just remember that horseplay can lead to personal injury or loss of items such as sunglasses or cellphones.
Written by Joe Yapello, a contributing writer for TOTI Media.
Travel family advice boating safety

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