A boating safety course conducted by U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 25-8 is March 10 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Mount Vernon Knights of Columbus Hall, 8592 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, Va.

Boating education is required by law of all new boaters operating a watercraft in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. and this class meets those requirements.

According to Rich Miller, commander of the Fort Belvoir area Flotilla, the course introduces boaters to basic skills in seamanship and watercraft operation as well as to the federal, state and county laws that govern safe and responsible behavior on the water.

"Learning to boat safely is important," he said. "Every year 500 to 600 hundred people die in preventable boating accidents. Eighty-five percent of these fatalities involve people who have not taken a boating safety course. In Virginia alone, there were eleven deaths last year."

Miller added that though the specific regulations vary state-by-state, successful completion of this safety course will satisfy the minimum requirements throughout the U.S.

"Each state has different rules about who is required to carry proof of boater education when operating a boat," he said. "The students who take our course receive a card and certificate that are good in all states for life. Students also receive a manual covering the course which is useful for future reference."

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, as of July 1, 2011, all personal watercraft operators in Virginia who are 50 years of age and younger and boat operators who are 20 of age and younger had to complete a boating safety course. Beginning July 1, 2012, all Virginia PWC operators regardless of age must take a boating safety course and boat operators ages 30 and younger need to take a boating safety course.

The PWC Age Restriction is specified by Virginia's Education Compliance Requirement: No person under the age of 14 may operate a PWC. Those operators ages 14 and 15 must show proof of completing an approved and accepted boating safety course either in a classroom or online. The challenge exam or other provisions of the Education Compliance Requirement do not meet the requirements of the age restriction law.

Miller said that students participating in the March 10 course will learn from expert instructors who have extensive experience in water safety and watercraft operation.

"Our course is taught by instructors who have been qualified by the Coast Guard Auxiliary as boat crew or coxswains on Auxiliary patrol boats," he said. "Among our instructors are two Coast Guard licensed Merchant Marine officers, a retired Coast Guard captain who commanded a cutter in the Bering Sea, a seaman who spent ten years sailing 30,000 miles in the Caribbean, Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes, and other boat owners with decades of experience in local and offshore waters."

Their experience is woven into the class which adds value to the class rather than just what an individual would receive by reading only the manual, according to Miller.

The primary topics covered during the class include an introduction to boating (types and uses of boats, engines, and family boating basics); boating laws (regulations and boat registration, required safety equipment, operational safety, reporting accidents, and protecting the marine environment); boat safety equipment (personal floatation devices, fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, distress signals, and sound-producing devices); safe boating (fueling, steering, docking, entering and loading a boat, and alcohol and drug use); navigation (reading a chart, learning the types of buoys and markers, using the right of way rules, and avoiding collisions) and handling boating problems (hypothermia, boating accidents and rescues, river hazards, running aground, engine problems, and emergency radio calls).

Miller said that an inflatable life jacket will be awarded to a student in a drawing conducted during the class. The first active-duty person to register for the class will receive a gift certificate for half-price weekday sailing lessons for two at Belle Haven Marina (value $300).

For more information and an enrollment form, contact Rich Miller at (703) 780-3765 or by email at eaglesailor75@cox.net.