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Safe at Sea: Boating education — it can be a lifesaver

By Staff | May 14, 2019

A few days ago, we were traveling out of the “Miserable Mile” where a series of channels intersect, thus the name “miserable” mile. The channels are heavily traveled as they lead to and from the Caloosahatchee, or over to Matlacha, or down to Fort Myers Beach, as well as over to Sanibel-Captiva. Adding to that, the channels are – at times – very narrow and quite shallow.

As we were heading over to Sanibel-Captiva, a pontoon boat decided to pass (correctly) on starboard; however, this boater’s destination was to the channel portside. No sooner did he move ahead starboard of our boat, then he accelerated and swerved across our bow. To turn to pot. As I pulled back on the throttle, we missed a collision by inches. Fortunately, everyone on our boat was seated and safe.

If you read last week’s column, you’ll recall that three of this year’s five boating fatalities were attributed to man-overboard scenarios, which this easily could have been. An additional critical statistic regarding boating accidents-fatalities is that in 57 percent of boating accidents, just 43 percent of the captains had any boating education – less than half!

As we approach National Safe Boating Week, which runs May 18-24, the importance of boating education comes to the forefront.

Boating safety classes can teach boaters how to transition from one boating environment to another, whether that be as simple as a boat’s heading or as complex as traveling from river-to bay-to Gulf environment. All of which is knowledge that helps prevent accidents.

Dan Eaton, public affairs officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary District 7, explained to one media outlet: “The reason I push boating safety classes so much is because they emphasize local water knowledge. Operating your boat in a lake in Wisconsin is going to be different from operating a boat in the Gulf of Mexico, or in bays or estuaries where the tides are different.”

Florida waterways are known for what Eaton calls “skinny water” – shallow areas that put boaters at risk, especially if boaters are speeding or boating at night. He told the media outlet that Florida boaters need to know how to navigate sandbars properly.

That is certainly affirmed by the recent boating fatality in which a woman was helping to move a boat off a sandbar. Tragically, she was then killed by the boat’s propeller.

Time invested in boating education is time invested in saving lives, perhaps your own or the lives of your loved ones. (Worth every single minute!)

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org or visit online at sancapboating.club.