Skippers learn rules of the water in safe-boating courses

Driving a boat isn’t just a matter of turning the key. So that boaters can get official training to safely and comfortably ride Delaware waters, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will host one-day boating safety courses at locations throughout the area in the coming months, helping boaters meet the state requirement for mandatory boating education, at a cost of $10 per person.

“It’s kind of like a highway out there, but people have to understand the guidelines,” such as meeting other vessels or understanding buoys. “It’s amazing how many people don’t know what they’re doing,” said instructor Robert “Bob” Adams.

Successful completion of a “State Approved Basic Course” is mandatory for anyone born in or after 1978, in order to legally operate a motorized boat on Delaware waters. (Personal watercraft, including JetSkis, are classified as boats.)

Upon successful completion of the course, people will receive a State of Delaware boating safety certificate, which they must carry when operating a motorized watercraft.

“Our job as instructors is to give them the information they need to pass the class,” said Adams.

The majority of all boating fatalities are people who have never had a boating class, he added.

Local courses are scheduled for:

• April 9 at Brandywine Senior Living at Fenwick Island;

• April 23 at South Bethany Town Hall;

• April 30 at the Millville fire hall;

• May 21 at Treasure Beach Campground near Fenwick Island;

• June 4 at Indian River Marina; and

• June 18 at Gulls Way Campground in Dagsboro.

“Anybody can take the class, and I encourage people who have been boating for years [to participate], even if grandfathered in — especially if you’re from another state,” said John McDerby of the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Office of Boating Education. “We may have some local laws that are different from the state you came from.”

The training can be a family affair, as a refresher for parents and learning experience for kids. It’s also suitable for people embarking on boat ownership for the first time. Recommended ages are 12 and up, due to class length. But parents can discuss details with Adams.

The course includes getting to know your boat; rules of the waterways; launching and sailing courteously; navigational aids and water depths; weather and water conditions; state regulations; boating safety and emergencies; and more.

“It is a pretty complete introduction to boating. People that have never been on a boat are amazed at how much information is dispensed,” Adams said.

Even people who have boated for decades can use a refresher, he said, especially as rules have changed over the years.

“There are many things that have changed. I thought I knew boating,” said Adams, who’s been on the water since childhood. “I learned more in the first year in the Auxiliary than I did in the 50 years of boating before that. Just because we’ve been on the water, we think we know, but if you’ve never had a course, you don’t.”

“It’s never too late to take a boating safety class,” said McDerby, recommending the course for anyone on the water — even those who don’t anticipate driving — in case of an emergency.

These local springtime courses are hosted by U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Division 12, Fifth District, Flotilla 12-01, based in South Bethany. But auxiliary units teach water-safety courses nationwide. The auxiliary is the civilian component of the U.S. Coast Guard, dedicated to educating the public in boating safety.

A dead motor inspired Adams to join the auxiliary. After fearing that he would have to stay on his boat overnight in the Atlantic Ocean, Adams got a jump-start from the Coast Guard. He was so impressed at their responsiveness that he joined the auxiliary immediately.

“They let the Coast Guard focus on the important stuff, protecting the country,” Adams said. “We [the Auxiliary] can focus on educating the public.”

This is a NASBLA-approved course, meeting the standards of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Delaware accepts any NASBLA-approved certification, even from other states, without extra testing, said McDerby. Other states in the region that have a reciprocal NASBLA certification may accept Delaware’s boating certification without requiring another test, or perhaps only a shorter test.

Delaware also has specific laws for individual watercraft, including JetSkis, as well as age-specific rules. Those 16 or older can ride alone, while 14- and 15-year-olds can steer if an adult is onboard supervising. (In that case, both riders should have a boating safety card.)

Course preregistration is required and can be done by contacting Robert “Bob” Adams at robertnadams@mchsi.com or (610) 507-7526. Class fees are paid at the door.

Course details are also online at the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary website, at http://a05312.uscgaux.info. Details are under “Public Education Boating Classes.”

The DNREC Boating Education Office can be reached at (302) 739-9915. More information about Delaware boating safety, including the handbook and statewide class calendar, is online at http://de.gov/boatsafety.