107-year history. Our award-winning boating classes, and the iconic “Chapman on Piloting” textbooks have saved scores of lives, no doubt. Our Cooperative Charting programs help ensure accurate channel and chart markings, preventing scores of accidents.
Our SERAT (Squadron Emergency Response Assistance Teams), which started here in Southwest Florida by Jim Strothers, renders volunteer assistance to local fire departments, law enforcement and other agencies in the event of a water–related emergency across the country, saving countless others.
National Safe Boating Week events and ongoing community service projects throughout the year raise boating safety awareness and save more lives, and countless other programs, such as our “Wear It” campaigns have saved even more.
However, another core mission: free vessel safety checks by our trained and certified examiners have prevented thousands of on the water miscues that could have turned tragic. It’s a little-known service that all boaters should take advantage of.
I was able to talk to a few VSC Examiners while writing this article.
Past Commander Jim Cooke of the Fort Myers Power Squadron has been a vessel safety examiner since 2001—a year after the USPS began the nationwide program. He’s done over 2,009 vessel safety checks since then. As I write this, he has passed his 2100th VSC examination.
“I’d like to say I’ve saved lives, but you never know what happens to the boat after I step off of it following the inspection,” Jim says. “One thing I can tell you, when you’re out on the water and you’ve got a current inspection decal on your boat, a law enforcement comes alongside and sees your decal, nine times out of ten they will know how consensus you are for safety and likely just say ‘have a nice day’ and move on.” To echo his point, he recalled the time he offered an inspection to a Fort Myers boater. The owner was in a hurry and waved him off. A short while later, a marine patrol officer stopped him on the water and cited him for having no navigation lights, an inadequate number of life preservers for the passengers on board, and several other violations. “That was the end of his boating for the day. If he’d just given me a little time, I could have saved him a ton of trouble,” Jim explained.
“Boaters are always in a hurry to get out on the water,” Jim says. “And they mostly think everything’s fine with their boat. I can complete an inspection on average in about 15-20 minutes. I try to expedite the process for them, chatting with them as I do the inspection.” Jim tries to educate them about boating safety, the classes are available from the United States Power Squadrons, and from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. “They mandate what we do. We’re not in competition with them. We’re partners,” Jim said.
Tom Rossini, from the Crystal River (FL) Power Squadron, is a VSC machine. He performed 1322 VSC’s in 2016. “I know I’ve saved lives, and it’s extremely rewarding to say that. I often tell boaters how to use their inboard motor to pump out their bilge in the event of a hull breach. The fittings cost just $20, and two survivors have contacted me and said the device saved their boat and probably their lives,” Tom said. “I try to carry on a conversation with the boater about all the things on my checklist without focusing on it. Just have a conversation; see what their habits are like. I give them a kit I put together with all kinds of boating and navigation rules and tips.
“I have a sticker with radio use instructions” Tom continues. “They often tell me they know how to use the radio, but I reply: Yeah, but maybe you won’t be the one using the radio. ‘Oh…’ they go. And with the smaller boats with no navigation lights, they say that they don’t plan to go out at night. That’s when I have the conversation about adverse weather, fog, getting grounded, or breakdowns… You need to have lights. And when I’m done, I give them my card. Hopefully, they’ll call me next year for another inspection.”
The two biggest problems he encounters is finding their life preservers stashed in their bilge or some out of the way place and seeing a first aid kit that is only good for scratches and cuts. Tom gives them a homemade checklist on how to outfit the boat with a trauma pack for almost no money. It would cost them $250 if purchased commercially.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a free Vessel Safety Check! Last year while conducting an inspection, we noticed the red and green running lights were reversed on the boat. You can well imagine what a potential disaster this could’ve been. It’s these kinds of items we check for—as well as many others that help keep you safe on the water.
The over 1500 Examiners of the United States Power Squadrons conducted over 27000 VSC’s in 2019. They’re free, and we come to your dock or trailer at your convenience. Text or email me and I’ll set one up for you. What are you waiting for?