Coast Guard Auxiliary class targets first-time boat captains

When a recreational boating accident happens, chances are that the operator was not paying enough attention or the lookout wasn’t doing his or her job.

Operator inattention and improper lookout were the top two contributing factors for recreational boating accidents in the country in 2014, according to the most recent statistics on from the U.S. Coast Guard. The next two most common factors were operator inexperience or excessive speed.

One of the most common reasons men fall off boats, though, is because they’re relieving themselves off the back and don’t pay enough attention, said Tara Janik, a boating safety instructor with Kenai’s Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla. The trouble is when the person left on board doesn’t know how to turn the boat back around.

The Coast Guard data shows the most common age for a boat pilot involved in an accident is between 36 and 55 years old, with the second most common being older than 55.

“The typical person in charge of a boat is a man between the ages of 45 and 60,” Janik said. “They could have diabetic shock or a heart attack.”

Few people realize how cold the water is when they fall in — after 10 minutes, most people can no longer swim, and it becomes worse if they are not wearing a life jacket, Janik said. Alcohol is often a factor as well.

According to the Coast Guard’s 2014 statistics, most of the deaths from boating accidents occurred when the operator had no known boating instruction. Only 12 percent of deaths occurred when the operator had instruction from a Coast Guard Auxiliary or the state.

To help educate boaters who are not necessarily the primary captains, the Kenai Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a class called “Suddenly in Command.” The program is nationally coordinated by the Coast Guard, but the Kenai flotilla offers a twist: a class specifically targeted at women, taught by women.

“It’s taught by the female members of the auxiliary, and that way they can say whatever they want to say or ask whatever questions they want to without men rolling their eyes,” Janik said.

The auxiliary has been running the class for three or four years now, Janik said, and participation has varied. Two years ago, the class was offered during the Funny River Wildfire, and very few people showed up. This year, the organizers chose to offer it a little earlier in the year, before the boating season starts, Janik said. Instructors will run over the basics of how to operate a boat, what to do if someone is sick or injured and the basics of taking command during an emergency, she said.

The class isn’t the only demographic-specific course the Cost Guard Auxiliary offers. Janik said the organizers are planning a Suddenly in Command class specifically for teens as well, which is scheduled for March 23. Teaching boating safety to children and young adults can help them form habits that enforce good safety practices throughout their lives, she said.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary also hosts a class specifically for kids, called Waypoints, currently scheduled for March 17. Although the concepts are simplified, the kids seem to remember the basics of boat safety well after the class is over, she said.

Younger adults seem to be much more attuned to safety requirements, potentially because of the financial consequences if they receive a citation from the Coast Guard, Janik said. The fines can range from $20 up to $1,000, which can be a powerful motivator for young boaters to follow all the rules, she said.

If people want to have their boats checked for safety but cannot make the class, the Coast Guard Auxiliary also does boat inspections on an individual basis.

The Suddenly in Command class for women will run from 6-10 p.m. on March 8 and costs $10. Registration closes Sunday, March 6. The class will be held at the Emergency Response Center on Wilson Lane in Soldotna.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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