By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Nothing can ruin a perfectly lovely day out on the river or ocean like a boating accident, but being prepared for anything can make the day less of a dangerous disaster.
The Vero Beach Power Squadron, to commemorate National Safe Boating Week, May 18-24, is offering a safe boating class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 18.
Participants will learn boat handling, navigation aids and rules, knots and more. The cost per person is $35, event organizers said.
"At Vero Beach Power Squadron, we are committed to educating boaters to be safe on the water. We are offering a class, performing vessel safety checks and participating in a national campaign to stress the importance of wearing personal flotation devices," said Sue Hamel, public relations officer for the squadron, in a press release.
Boat safety doesn't apply merely to yachts or boats with onboard motors, Ms. Hamel said in an interview.
"Sailboats, kayaks, pontoon boats, jet skis, and watercraft of all shapes and sizes should have safety checks and people using them should be aware of their vessel and their environment," she said.
On the water, circumstances can change in an instant, said Dan Thomas, Vero Beach Power Squadron member.
"Things happen very quickly on the water. If you think about things ahead of time, you'll be prepared to handle them," Mr. Thomas said.
One of the simplest ways to avoid issues on the water is to check the weather radar prior to leaving, Ms. Hamel said.
"I'm a stickler for that. If the weather looks bad, I'm not going to chance it," Ms. Hamel said.
Two popular and helpful sites for checking the weather are Weather Underground at www.wunderground.com or the National Weather Service marine forecasts at www.nws.noaa.gov/marine, she said.
When people hop on an airplane to take a trip, they have an itinerary, and most people share the flight schedule and plan with at least one family member or friend, but when people go out on the water, they don't have the same instinct to share their plans, Mr. Thomas said.
"People need to have a float plan. Tell your mother, friends, other relatives, whoever, that you're going to be out and plan on being back, say at 2 p.m. That way, if it's 4 p.m. and you're not back, they can then alert the Coast Guard and tell them where you were planning to go," he said.
Strangely enough, many accidents happen in calm water, Mr. Thomas said.
"Boat passengers can be riding along, enjoying the blue skies and sunshine and before they know it, they will be heading straight toward another small boat and will collide," he said. "Sometimes, alcohol plays into the picture, but prolonged exposure to the sun can cause some people to lose concentration easily or have a slower reaction time."
Anyone who is responsible for piloting the watercraft should remain on alert at all times, he said.
Finally, most people are aware that in order to maintain a safe vessel, each member onboard the boat must have a life jacket easily accessible to them.
"While it is not required that the life jacket be worn, a life jacket is extremely difficult to put on once someone is in the water and there have been local instances where if people had worn a life jacket, their boating accident wouldn't have been fatal," Mr. Thomas said.
The power squadron participates in the "Wear It" campaign promoting the wearing of the life jackets by everyone boating. The organization also offers free vessel safety checks for anyone wanting to know if their vessels, even kayaks, meet all general safety regulations.
For more information about boat safety classes or the Vero Beach Power Squadron, call (772) 532-6893 or visit www.verobeachpowersquadron.com.