up outside of Annapolis, just a few minutes from the Naval Academy, I
spent a lot of time on the water. Some of my earliest memories are of
watching my father water ski, and as a teenager weekends just weren't
weekends without a few hours on the family boat. So it was only natural
that the first time I put hand to rudder without someone guiding my
actions minute by minute, I almost immediately sailed to a glorious stop
upon a sandbar. My power boat-loving companions and I sat for 45 minutes
until the Department of Natural Resources came by to tow us free.
It only takes one experience like that to teach a born and raised
Maryland girl that boating lessons aren't just for people from out of
town. According to Maryland law, in fact, everyone born on or after July
1, 1972, is required to possess a certificate of boating safety
education to operate any motorized vessel, whether power boat, sail boat
(they have engines, too, after all) or personal watercraft. Taking time
to learn before you come aboard can save you an embarrassing experience
like mine. Having proof of your boating safety certification will also
eliminate fines of $25 for a first offense, or up to $500 for each
subsequent offense, should you be asked to provide it during a vessel
With boating season upon us, now is a good time to get your boating
safety education under your belt. According to the Maryland Department
of Natural Resources (DNR), students can take the Maryland Basic Boating
Course and then must pass a 50-question, multiple-choice test with a
grade of 70% or higher to achieve certification. Though there are home
study courses and internet courses available, Maryland does not accept
their certification as proof of preparedness. In other words, home study
and internet courses can help you prepare for the test, but you still
need to take the test in the presence of a certified instructor.
Boating safety courses and certification testing are available locally
through the United States Power Squadron (USPS) and the United States
Coast Guard Auxiliary. Since 1914, more than three million people have
taken the USPS boating course, which is open to the members of the
public of all ages.
Southern Maryland is part of the United States Power Squadron 5th
District, which includes 39 squadrons in Pennsylvania, Delaware,
Maryland and Virginia. The USPS recently also joined forces with the
U.S. Coast Guard for a program of voluntary vessel safety checks.
Barbara Walter, a public relations liaison for the Patuxent River Sail
and Power Squadron, recommends yearly vessel safety checks, as well as
members-only advanced boating courses, no matter what your level of
experience or comfort on the water.
The law does not require taking the basic boating course more than once.
Most kids are 10 to 12 years old when they take it, often with their
entire families; after passing the end-of-course exam, they are then
certified for life.
The course itself covers boat handling, different types of boats,
required and recommended equipment, knots, handling adverse conditions,
using charts and marine radio, navigation and trailoring.
Ms. Walter also recommends the advanced piloting class, available to
squadron members. Recently updated to include global positioning systems
and radar, the course also discusses skills like reading the "look" of
the water and relating it to conditions noted on the charts.
"We are working to update the charts for the Solomons area now. Radar
and GPS are in the new advanced piloting course because they are more
common than ever before," says Ms. Walter. Modern technology can "give
you a lot of information you used to have to do on paper. Though reading
the 'look' of the water is discussed, it's really a skill you pick up
over years of sailing. Some people, like my husband, are naturals at
it." And other people, like me, need to study those piloting
skills before we get cocky and run aground.
Learn about the US Coast Guard's local boating safety classes, times,
dates and locations, through the BoatUS Foundation's Course line. Call
1-800-336-2628 or visit them online at
The Maryland DNR offers dozens of courses across Southern Maryland
throughout the year. For a listing of the state of Maryland's Department
of Natural Resources Safety Education Courses, visit
www.dnr.state.md.us. You can
also call the Natural Resources Police Safety Education Division to
request more information at 410-260-3280.
For information on United States Power Squadron courses available across
Southern Maryland, call 1-800-367-8777 or visit