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Boating Classes Aim to Head Off Disaster

May 26, 1990|SHEARLEAN DUKE | Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Every day during the summer in Orange County, hundreds of boats head out to sea. Most are aiming for a relaxing weekend on the water, but others are headed for disaster.

More boating accidents occur on Saturday, during perfect weather, than at any other time, according to the National Safe Boating Council. When it comes to boating accidents, California's yearly total of 745 is second only to Florida's 952. Of all transportation accidents, boating mishaps are second only to auto accidents in the number of fatalities reported in this country each year.

Local boating experts believe that those numbers could be cut drastically if skippers and their first mates would sign up for a safe-boating class before they ever set sail. But too many first-time boaters don't bother. That's why the emphasis is on education during Safe Boating Week, June 3 through 9.

And education is what the U.S. Power Squadron is all about. "Our educational programs are the cornerstone of our safe-boating activity," says Louis Loth, commander of the Balboa Squadron in Newport Beach. "That's why most of us belong to the Power Squadron--for the educational opportunities."

The U.S. Power Squadron consists of 444 chapters nationally; three of those chapters are in Orange County. The oldest and largest is the Balboa Power Squadron, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in July.

A handful of states have made boating education mandatory for skippers, but Connecticut is the only state that requires an operating license much like a driver's license. A recent proposal to license boaters in Florida failed to pass. In California, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature to require mandatory boater education for some boating law offenders, but no license is required.

"You can just go out and buy a boat," says Curtis Smith, education officer for the Balboa Power Squadron. "As long as the boat is registered, you can go out and do anything you want. You can buy a Donald Trump-size boat and go out and run it around."

Smith and others in the Orange County boating community believe that it is better to learn how "to run it around" before you leave the dock. And during Safe Boating Week they hope to encourage beginning boaters to sign up for one of the safe-boating classes offered throughout Orange County by the U.S. Power Squadron or the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a civilian volunteer branch of the Coast Guard.

Throughout the week, members of the Power Squadron and the Auxiliary will set up booths along the waterfront and near popular marine stores and hand out safety literature describing classes available to the public. The Balboa Power Squadron offers free classes each spring and fall at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. For information, call (714) 640-0281 or (714) 642-1249.

Two separate series of free Coast Guard Auxiliary classes will begin July 11 and 12 at the Orange County harbor master office, 1901 Bayside Drive. For information, call Barbara Farley at (714) 581-5568 or Joe Muslin at (714) 675-3363.

Both the Power Squadron and Auxiliary classes cover boat handling, charts and charting, coastal navigation, equipment regulations and boating laws. "What we try to do in our safe-boating classes is to cover the very fundamentals of boating safety," says Smith. "There is really a lot more to (operating a boat) than is usually apparent. And the Catalina channel is really quite a treacherous stretch of water. There are other boats out there, and you are not alone. There are many other factors to worry about other than just running aground or running into the breakwater. There are rules of the road like there are in driving a car." But as Mal Coston, another Power Squadron member points out: "There are no white lines on the water. So you have to know the rules of the road. We see almost every year two or three collisions that could have been avoided by following those rules if the people knew them."

In addition to emphasizing education, members of Coast Guard Auxiliary will also be encouraging boaters to get their vessels in proper working order. "We'll give free courtesy exams and hand out Coast Guard decals to anyone who passes," Joe Muslin says. The courtesy boat inspections will be held at Newport Dunes at times and dates to be announced. For information, call (714) 675-3363. Typical problems found during such inspections include inadequate or missing fire extinguishers, improper lights and missing life jackets, according to Muslim.

Other safe boating activities included a recent volunteer effort by the Balboa Power Squadron to verify the location of navigational aids in Huntington Harbour. Squadron members cruised through the harbor in inflatable dinghies checking to make sure that all channel markers were where they were supposed to be.

Marlinespike--Marine craftsman Robert Smirl will present a marlinespike class beginning June 7 at the Orange Coast College Sailing Center, 1801 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach.

The eight-week class will cover all aspects of marlinespike work, including knots, splices and decorative rope craft. Hands-on work will be emphasized, and students will work with the tools of the sail maker and rigger in completing various projects. For information, call (714) 645-9412.

Boating education--Boating information is quickly available year-round by calling the following toll free numbers:

Boating classes (800) 336-BOAT or (800) 869-SAIL.

Learn-to-sail hot line (800) 447-4700.

U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Hotline (800) 368-5647.

On the Waterfront appears each Saturday, covering boating lifestyles as well as ocean-related activities along the county's 42-mile coastline.

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