TRAVERSE CITY — Ice is breaking up and the open waters of northern Michigan are about to return.
That means it's time for the Traverse City Coast Guard Auxiliary — the volunteer arm of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City — to host a boater safety class in early April, its first public education program for the coming boating season. It's part of a public service mission.
"It's to save lives. We're trying to raise awareness of how to be safe boaters," said Dianne Walker, the Auxiliary's public education coordinator. "We live right here by the water. Every kid here should know how to swim and how to be safe around the water."
Topics expected to be covered in the class include boating safety and equipment, emergency procedures, navigation rules and aids, boating regulations and charting.
Walker said the first thing participants learn are boating terms such as port and starboard, fore and aft, and more. Also a major emphasis is placed on the importance of life jackets — that there are enough on board every boat for the number of passengers and that they are the proper sizes, Walker said.
The boating safety class meets in two sessions, both of which are required to earn a boater safety certificate. Sessions are scheduled from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 4, and again from 9 a.m.
Michigan law states boaters younger than 12 years old must have earned a safety certificate and can operate a boat between 6 and 35 horsepower only if supervised by somebody at least 16 years old.
Children younger than 14 years old may not operate a jet ski at all, while those 14 and 15 years old may do so only with a safety certificate and when accompanied by a guardian or legal adult either on board or not further than 100 feet away, according to Michigan boating law. Also all jet ski riders born in 1979 or later must have a boater safety certificate.
Failure to produce a Michigan Boater Education Card when required can result in a fine, according to state law.
James Frick, flotilla commander for the local Coast Guard Auxiliary, said boating safety is immensely important in Michigan. He said statistics show 75 percent of boating accidents are because of human error, and safety education can help reduce that risk.
"Each summer as we patrol, we find boaters trying to anchor, unsuccessfully, due to lack of training," Frick said. "Everyone who is a boater should take a safe boating course for their protection and for their passengers, and other boaters."
Frick said almost everyone who participated in and rated the organization's boating safety course said they felt they became safer, better boaters having spent the time learning the safety recommendations.
"Drivers on the road require licenses, and that requires training. Boaters should also have training for everyone's safety and enjoyment," Frick said.
Information about boating in Michigan can be found at www.michigan.gov/boating online.
Want to participate?
What: Boater safety class
When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. April 4 and 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April 6
Cost: $10, includes book
More: Register by April 1 by calling 231-883-8040 or sending email to email@example.com