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Safe boating course offered in OP

By Hunter Hine, Staff Writer

(March 24, 2023) The Ocean City Power Squadron is offering local boaters a free three-day course focusing on safety at the Ocean Pines Library starting Tuesday.

OCPS is a volunteer organization dedicated to cultivating safe and skilled boating. It serves as part of the United States Power Squadron, according to the OCPS website.

Anyone who wishes to drive a recreational boat or personal watercraft is required to attend the entire eight-hour course and pass its one-hour final exam, said OCPS Education Officer Fred Stiehl.

The class covers topics like proper boating equipment, navigation, right-of-way, reading buoys, boating in bad weather, knot tying and radio communications, Stiehl said.

“I think if you’re going to be a boater, if you’re going to be on the water, you really need to understand what’s required to operate safely, and you might be surprised at how many people do not know the basics of boating,” Stiehl said.

Maryland residents born before July 1, 1972 are exempt from the class, but with recent changes in Maryland boating laws, Stiehl also encourages well-seasoned boaters to attend, if just as a refresher.

“Even if you are the son or daughter of a very experienced fisherman, a very experienced boater, and your father or your mother has taught you lots of stuff, that’s great, and it’s really helpful and useful, but you still legally have to take this class or one like it to operate legally on the waters of Maryland or Delaware (or) Virginia,” Stiehl said.

The course runs from 6-9 p.m. each night. There will be a final exam on the last night.

Prospective boaters can register on the first night and are asked to arrive 15 minutes early to do so.

While there isn’t a minimum age requirement, Stiehl said middle school and higher is most appropriate.

Once passed, boaters are registered with the state and receive a Maryland Safe Boating Certificate, a document Stiehl compared to a driver’s license. The certification is valid in most states including Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania, Stiehl said.

“If you are in a boat, operating a boat, and you do not have the certificate, but someone else on board, whose boat it is (does have the certificate), then you’re okay to operate it,” he said. “So for example, if I go on my boat with my grandchildren, and I’m trying to teach them how to maneuver on the water, that’s okay as long as I’m in charge and I’ve got either the required certificate or I’m grandfathered in.”

OCPS usually offers the course to the general public every spring and fall with around 20 attendees, but they also present the class to middle and intermediate schools during the school year, Stiehl said.

Students of the basic boating course can buy a $20 course book from the OCPS or rent one with a refundable deposit of the same price. The book is also free for high schoolers and younger students, Stiehl said.

“We hope they (the students) get the basic knowledge of how to operate your boat safely. It’s not going to tell you everything you need to know,” Stiehl said. “You need to learn by experience. You need to understand various situations that you might get yourself into. We can’t cover them all. We try and cover as many as we can think of.”

Stiehl said when boaters are through with the course they will know all the legal requirements that come with boating, and he hopes they apply their knowledge to make boating safer for everyone.

“I like boating. I like other people to like boating and I want to make sure that both they and I are safe out on the water,” Stiehl said.

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The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also hosts a Safe Boating Class once a month at the Ocean Pines Library, and the next one begins April 11.