CRAVEN COUNTY, N.C — The clear blue skies, gentle wind and sparkling sun have enticed new boaters to explore the water, especially after being keep cooped up during the pandemic.
Boating has become a popular activity because it allows people to spend their time outside. However, more crowded waterways also means more boating accidents from inexperienced boaters who haven't been properly educated on boating safety.
“When you throw a lot of kayakers and paddle boarders and small boaters into the mix, it gets quite messy out here on a weekend,” says David Fort.
Fort is the vice commander for the Coast Guard Auxiliary. It's a volunteer branch of the Coast Guard that does pretty much everything except law enforcement and military activity.
He says in North Carolina alone, there has been a 10% to 15% increase in the number of calls the Coast Guard has received from boaters. The official numbers for 2020 won't come out until later this year, however, this trend has been seen all across America.
“This year has presented some interesting challenges to us because our primary mission with the Coast Guard is recreational boating safety, but because of the pandemic, we've been very limited in what we can do,” says Fort.
One of the biggest issues has been not being able to hold in person boating safety classes. Although it's not quite the same, the Coast Guard is offering different online classes ranging from boating safety to navigation. Wayne Mulligan, one of the instructors, also does vessel safety examinations.
“It's very important that you educate yourself as to what equipment you need on the boat,” Mulligan says. “How do you comport yourself when you are out on the water? You know, what are the regulations, how do I do this, how do I do that? So that you don't just go out there and flounder around out on the water.”
North Carolina does require boaters to take a boating safety class if they have a motor over ten horsepower, but other than that there are no requirements to drive a boat.
“That's where the problem lies that you can walk into a boat store and buy a boat and go out on the water with it ... There is no requirement. There's no driver's license if you will,” says Mulligan.
For that reason, many people don't necessarily know what equipment they are supposed to have on board in case of emergencies, and boaters often pay the price. The Coast Guard Auxiliary wants to remind boaters:
- Always carry life jackets, a fire extinguisher, and first aid kit on board
- Laws change from state-to-state so even experienced boaters need to double check the rules
- Kayaks, paddle boards and jet skis are considered boats too and have to follow guidelines
- Schedule a free vessel safety check with the Coast Guard Auxiliary to go over details specific to your type of boat
- Find a boating safety course near you
- North Carolina's Vessel Operator's Guide and online class schedule can be found online at cgaux.org.