WILLIAMSBURG — I have a couple mottos that I like to live by. Short little quips that espouse a certain life philosophy that I feel make me sound witty and thoughtful, even though most of them are blatantly stolen from people much wittier than I.
For instance, “You don’t have to be the fastest person running from a bear, just don’t be the slowest.” is a good one. Or “It’s better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” is one that I wish I adhered to more often…or ever.
But the one motto that I have had for years and stuck to is, “I don’t want to own a boat. I just need friends who do.” By that I mean, I like being out on boats but not enough to actually own one.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a freeloader. When I am invited on to a boat, I’ll throw in for fuel and I’ll always bring enough beer to share with the rest of the class (responsibly, of course). But for the most part, I have always been content to just be a passenger. Fat, dumb and happy while I try my best to stay out the way of the boat’s skipper, whoever that might be.
These days, however, I am starting to feel differently. I fall into that age-old trap that tends to hit people in their 30s who don’t know better and think that maybe buying a boat would be fun. It would be something to do with the spouse and kids on weekends, boat access camping, pretending to fish, but really just using it as an excuse to take a nap on a boat.
So I started looking at different types of boats and their uses. I figured a simple cuddy cabin or a pontoon would suffice. I was sure that would be something I could get into. Then I started looking into the costs of boats, insurance, gas, registration. I screamed internally while looking at the sheer expense. I then started remembering what the pediatric dentist/orthodontist said when my kid had their first check up: “Whoa that’s a crowded mouth.” Then I heard a cash register ding in the distance.
I guess for the sake of my children’s teeth and continuing to pay my mortgage, buying a motor boat is something that will have to wait a few years. In the meantime I figured it would be a good thing if I actually learned something about the world of boating so that I can hit the ground running (or hit the water swimming) when I do stumble upon a briefcase full of non-sequential, unmarked bills.
So I enrolled in a Virginia Boating Safety Education Class offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in Poquoson. There are online options for this course and most of them, online or in person, are offered free of charge. I figured since I had little frame of reference for the subject matter, that I would get the most out of the course by listening to an experienced mariner rather than sitting at my computer halfway paying attention to simulations and PowerPoint slides.
The class was six hours spread over a Monday and Wednesday evening. While I’ve never been a fan of giving up my evenings to be in a school setting, I must say that I quite enjoyed the instruction.
The course is led by a handful of experienced mariners who have been on boats in one way or another for decades. In the class they not only covered the rules and regulations of operating and owning boats, but they put their real world experience out for the benefit of the class.
They touched on a wide array of boating basics, from how to get boats on and off trailers, complete with real world pictures of a boat lying in the the middle of George Washington Highway to help drive the point home.
They went over navigation, maritime law, international waters, personal water craft, lights and communications. The course covered every kind of vessel from yachts all the way down to paddleboards.
Looking back at it, I am amazed at, not only how much information they covered, but how much information I retained. The former speaks to the effectiveness of the instructors, and latter speaks to how I am not the studious type and I have a long list of instructors dating back to 1991 who can attest to that.
The course instructors’ approach was one of good humor and friendliness, but they were still able to drive home the fact that as much fun as people can have out on the water, it can turn deadly serious in a split second. They made sure the class understood importance of taking responsibility for the boat and all the lives on it.
So it might be awhile before you see me at the helm of my own boat, but until then I’ll be happy to sit on a pier and give free advice to any and all mariners who look like they need instruction. Also, I’ll still gladly throw in for gas and refreshments anytime I’m invited to take a cruise.
For more information on boating and boating safety classes in Virginia, check out the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources website.