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Safe boating starts with vital lessons on land

02/14/2017, 12:24am EST

Boater education programs offered locally

Lake Erie is a magnet for boaters, and hundreds of watercraft use Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island each summer weekend. The boating safety and education classes are designed to make the experience better for all. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

Piloting a boat is like driving a car. Except there are no brakes, and no grip or traction like tires grabbing the road, and the steering responds much more slowly and gradually than that in a car.

There also are no headlights or taillights or turn signals, per se, and no seatbelts or airbags to protect you in the event of a collision. And without the benefit of shocks or springs or sway bars, a boat is a lot less stable while in motion.

The places you go in a boat also have no painted lanes, there often are no posted speed limits, and other traffic can come at you from any direction — head-on, parallel, perpendicular or diagonally to your course.

Other than that, it’s the same — except for maybe a hundred other nuances that make the mastery of a different skill set mandatory for the proper and safe operation of a boat. That is the long answer as to why we need boater education and safety classes.

Mike Schabeck, the former marina and safe boating coordinator for the city of Toledo who is active in the boater education programs offered locally by the Toledo Sail and Power Squadron, said the courses on safety and navigation always should come before the boat hits the water.

“Education is the key to the safe and legal operation of a boat, no matter who it is at the controls,” he said. “People get in the habit of thinking that operating a boat is a lot like driving a car, so they can do it without the instruction. But obviously, there’s a lot more to it.”

It is common knowledge that, no matter how old you might be, you need to pass a test, receive a state-issued license, and provide proof of insurance to legally operate a motor vehicle. The rules are a bit more loosey-goosey on the water.

In Ohio, if you are age 35 or older, you can purchase a boat powered by a 300-horsepower outboard motor, launch the boat, and legally punch the throttle, with no course required. In Michigan, if you are 21, you can legally operate a boat with a Corvette engine tucked inside its hull, with no boater education required.

Both states require the completion of a certified boating course or a proficiency exam, by anyone under those age thresholds. Schabeck said he often encounters boaters who are old enough that they are not mandated to take the education course, but definitely could benefit from it.

“The law puts specific requirements in place for certain age groups,” he said, “but we’ve had people who have been boating for many years come in and take the class, and then when it’s over they tell us there was a lot in there that they never knew.”

Schabeck said although some boating education courses are offered online, he strongly recommends the classroom setting where the personal attention reinforces the lessons, and questions are encouraged.

“The hands-on class is the ideal way to learn about boating safety and navigation, because we can see right away which areas need more attention, or where the questions might be,” he said. “And with the online stuff, you never know who it is punching the keys.”

Sarah Genzman, an officer with the Ohio Division of Watercraft, said the certified boater education courses cover the required equipment, rules and regulations, drowning prevention, navigation rules, what to do in case of emergency, what to know before you get under way, and how to enjoy water sports.

“It’s like drivers ed for boat owners,” she said. “We’ve found that there is a direct connection between boating accidents and fatalities and the number of people taking boater education courses, so our goal is to eventually have everyone who operates a boat take the course.”

A one-day boating safety class will be offered from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the American Legion at 204 Illinois Ave. in Maumee. Lunch is provided, and there is a $35 registration fee for the course, with a $10 charge for each additional family member. Two students sharing one book can register for $45. For registration or more information, contact Jessie Cartlidge at 419-322-8461 or, or Terry Cleary at 419-367-0222 or

“America’s Boating Course” also will be offered as a four-evening class Feb. 21, 23 and 28, and March 2 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Port Authority Building, One Maritime Plaza in downtown Toledo. The course fee has been reduced to $5 per person by the by the Toledo Sail and Power Squadron, with the purchase of a textbook optional. Certified instructors will cover the required safety equipment, water sport safety, navigation rules, aids to navigation, anchoring, knots and lines, trailering, and regulations. Contact Nelson Evans at 419-376-1415 or for registration and information.

An additional session of the class will be offered March 1, 8, 15, and 22 at Monroe Community College, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. each night. Contact Evans for registration and information.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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