While at a recent Academy Sports safety event, Yak Outlaws was tasked with giving a kayak safety seminar to promote Boater’s Safety Month. While we shared a lot of information to a lot of newcomers to our sport, we also learned quite a bit ourselves. I had the opportunity to meet with and discuss boater’s safety with Andy Koenig of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and came away with a lot of useful information. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is a civilian, volunteer based unit, that provides several programs to promote boating safety and has been in existence since 1939.
The USCG Auxiliary’s main focus is boating safety, but they also serve numerous functions including vessel safety checks, harbor patrols, search and rescue, marine environmental protection and safe boating courses. They offer a slew of Boater Safety Education courses including About Boating Safety, Paddlesports America, Personal Watercraft Course, and many others aimed at making the kayaker more knowledgeable and safer on the water. Each course comes with a nominal fee, but the information learned is invaluable. The Personal Watercraft Course is a 1hr introductory course aimed at teaching the basics of operating a personal watercraft such as a kayak. Paddlesports America is designed for kayakers and is a 4 hour course touching on 5 safety issues for kayakers. These topics include Know Your Paddlecraft, Before You Get Underway, Operating Your Boat Safely, The Legal Requirements of Boating, and Boating Emergencies. Each topic is designed to teach you more about your kayak, how to operate your kayak safely in relation to other vessels on the water, how to make a float plan, and so much more. A certificate is awarded for each class successfully completed, but the knowledge gained is invaluable.
Another interesting fact I learned from Mr. Koenig is the Coast Guard Auxiliary also offers boat safety checks. Andrew does an amazing job explaining exactly what the Coast Guard Auxiliary really does here:
“Our job as Vessel Examiners for the USCG Auxiliary is to go through a recreational boater’s vessel and determine if they are carrying all the required safety gear and meet all federal, state and local regulations regarding recreational boating. We are *not* a law-enforcement agency and *do not* report any violations found during a vessel examination to any law enforcement agency. Our courtesy vessel examinations are not there to punish people with violations; we are there to help promote safe recreational boating by educating the public. We have been directed by the Commandant to focus on recreational boating safety with a increased focus on boats less than 25′ in length, as these account for most of the boating accidents.
Most paddle craft (kayaks, canoes, and SUP) fall within this category. We are not there to determine the structural stability of a vessel, but a general assessment of the structural condition of the vessel is included. Vessel Safety Checks, or VSCs as they are called, are performed in a few different ways. A person can schedule a VSC for their vessel through the website using the “I want a Vessel Safety Check” link (http://wow.uscgaux.info/content.php?unit=V-DEPT&category=i-want-a-vsc). They can also contact the Flotilla directly and schedule a VSC with a Vessel Examiner. Or thirdly, the Coast Guard Auxiliary will set up specific days to be on site at marinas and boat ramps to check as many boats as possible.
Once we have an owner/operator that wants their boat examined, the Vessel Examiner will run down a checklist that lists all the required safety equipment that needs to be on board and ensure that it is serviceable. As we go through the checklist, it is the perfect opportunity to educate the boater about why we are looking at a specific item. Once the required checklist is completed, there is a secondary checklist of recommended items that increase a boaters safety. The required and recommended items change somewhat depending on the length of the boat and if the boat is powered, a sailing vessel or a paddle craft. When the entire checklist is completed, the Vessel Examiner spends time again educating the boater regarding any deficiencies present and how they can be corrected. The boater will then either receive a decal indicating the boat meets all safety requirements or a detailed listing of areas that need improvement.”
“Vessel examiners are on the front lines promoting boating safety directly with the boating public. Our job is as much to educate as it is to inspect. Paddle craft are often overlooked, but necessitate similar safety equipment as powered boats. Many paddle craft lack safety equipment that will make them visible to powerboats that share the same water. With the education provided during a VSC, the paddle craft operator will be poised to operate safely within the waterways of Florida. We can all enjoy time spent on the water when safety is the primary concern.”
Safety is and should always be of the utmost importance when spending time out on the water. To learn more about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and where your local Flotilla is located, check out their website at http://www.cgaux.org/ and see about getting your kayak or SUP a Vessel Safety Check completed. I proudly display my VSC decal on my Predator MX.