Buying a boat? Start with safety and know-how

Editor's note: To page through the summer issue of Sound & Country online, visit The Day's new iMag, here. Our 12-page boating guide starts on page 12.

Painting the name on the stern of your boat may be the proudest moment for a purchaser, but it is far from the first consideration. Like a car, or house, there are many other practical matters that must come first.

The first guiding principle is the type of boat that you should buy based on your budget and interest in boating — do you want something you can easily keep in your yard, or do you need something larger that will require docking?

These are all questions to ask yourself, said Captain Tom Kehlenbach, of Old Saybrook. A longtime boater, Kehlenbach works for Sea Tow, a franchise based marine assistance organization.

But even after identifying the perfect boat, the captain of the vessel will first have to comply with the state of Connecticut’s requirements for obtaining a safe boating certificate.

It may seem like a roadblock to some — after all, finally being able to acquire a boat is all about relaxing and forgetting about the cares of the world. Yet most accidents occur on boats less than 21 feet long, according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Coast Guard and posted on the American Boating Association website.

“We want people to have fun, but we want people to be safe,” said Gwendolynn Flynn, boating education/outreach supervisor with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

To legally operate any boat with a motor, or an un-motorized sailboat 19 ½ feet in length or longer, the operator must have either a Safe Boating Certificate or a Certificate of Personal Watercraft. A Safe Boating Certificate allows people to legally operate a boat other than a personal watercraft. A Certificate of Personal Watercraft allows the legal operation of boats and personal watercraft such as a jet skis, reported the DEEP.

The safe boating course is an 8-hour series of classes that is an in-classroom experience. The DEEP breaks the course up into four classroom sessions that are two hours each, but some private providers might choose to hold theirs in one day, said Flynn.

Before signing up for a course for safe boating or personal watercraft, it is important to first go online and obtain a Connecticut Conservation Identification Number with the Sportsman Licensing System with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection,

The instructor will need your identification number and your name as it was entered online. Within a week of completing the course, and passing the exam, you can purchase the certificate online from the Sportsman licensing system. The fee for the Personal Watercraft System is $50. The printed document must be signed and kept on board at all times.

Once on the water, there are certain safety tenets that will keep boating safe and therefore stress-free and relaxing for both captain and passengers.

Kehlenbach recommends that captains augment their boating safety courses with a private navigation and piloting course that is offered by the US Power Squadron as well as Sea Tow in order to deal with conditions such a fog and other unexpected weather.

Other basic safety precautions include keeping to the 1/3 fuel rule: enough fuel for 1/3 fuel to get to the destination, another 1/3 to return, and 1/3 reserve, and boaters will never run out of fuel, said Kehlenbach. With salt conditions, fuel gauges can become faulty, so it is better to rely on a log that calculates fuel burn, he advised. Other precautions to keep in mind are batteries, which due to saltwater corrosion need to be replaced every two to three years. And if you need help? It’s good to shoot off flares in succession so that after seeing one, people will be on the alert for the next one.

Ninety percent of boating fatalities can be avoided by wearing life jackets — and with the weather slowly warming this year, it is important to keep in mind that hypothermia is a severe risk for boaters.

“Life jackets are so easy to wear now,” Kehlenbach said. “There are the automatic inflate, not the big, bulky life jackets; they are nice, comfortable life vests now, and I think it’s critical.”

Safe boating and personal watercraft courses can be found at the DEEP website,

Upcoming Combination Safe Boating and Personal Watercraft Classes:

Groton Parks and Recreation, beginning on 6/17/14, Tue., Wed., Thurs., 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. call (860) 536-5691. $20.

Gateway Community College, New Haven, beginning 8/4/14, Mon., Wed., for two weeks, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., $25, (203) 285-2080.

Gateway Community College, New Haven, beginning 9/8/14, Mon., Wed., for two weeks, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., $25, (203) 285-2080.

Heading out on the water?

Here's what you should know
Connecticut Age Requirements
A person younger than 16 who has a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation (CPWO) cannot operate a personal watercraft without the on-board supervision of a person over 18 who has a CPWO.
A child younger than 16 who does not have a Safe Boating Certificate (Safe Boating Certificate) / CPWO may operate a vessel as long as he/she is under the direct supervision of a person who is at least 18 and has had their boating certificate for at least 2 years.
• A child younger than 12 may not operate a vessel with a motor greater than 10 horsepower, unless the youth is accompanied by a person at least 18 years old and has an SBC or CPWO.
Note: Owners who permit an underage child to operate their vessel without a SBC or CPWO will be held accountable for the actions of the child.
Life Jackets
The required on-board safety equipment depends on the size of the vessel; however, life jackets are required on all vessels for each occupant- no matter the size of the occupant. The life jacket requirements are fairly extensive, but necessary to keep boaters safe. Life jackets must:
• Be U.S. Coast Guard approved;
• Have a legible label;
• Be of the correct size and fit for the wearer. A life jacket should fit comfortably snug, and never cover your face or ride up past your ears;
• Be in serviceable condition (all straps and buckles must be in good condition and able to perform their jobs; all seams and material must be intact);
• Be worn by children younger than 13 years old on any vessel that is underway unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin;
• Be worn by anyone operating or riding a personal watercraft (PWC);
• Be worn by anyone being pulled behind a boat (such as tubing or skiing);
• Be worn by anyone in a manually propelled vessel from October 1 through May 31;
Things to remember:
• Ski belts are not legal life jackets.
• Inflatable life jackets may not be used by persons engaged in high-speed water sports (such as riding PWCs or water-skiing) and may not be used by persons weighing under 90 lbs. or younger than 16 years of age.
Beware the border seasons
Warm spring and late fall weather often get people excited about boating; however, the water temperature is still cold and precautions should be taken. Between 2003 and 2013, 58 people were treated for hypothermia as a result of a boating accident. Forty-two of those injuries occurred during Connecticut's cold water months, October through May. Capsizing or falling overboard is always risky but doing so in cold water greatly increases the risk of dying. Cold water is generally considered water less than 68˚F. In Long Island Sound, temperatures usually don't exceed 68˚F before early June.
• Remain calm and quickly access your situation.
• Do all the things that require dexterity first such as using a VHF radio, cell phone, zipping up your coat, tightening the collar and sleeves of your coat or tying a knot.
• Devote your efforts to getting out of the water. Re-board your vessel, right your capsized boat and climb in, get in a life raft, or climb on top of your capsized boat or another floating object.
• Stay with the boat or swim to shore? There is no easy answer to this question. You must ask yourself: Am I alone in a remote area? Is there a chance someone may see me? How far from shore am I? Am I floating into another hazard? What is the water temperature? Once a decision has been reached and acted out the results are often final. Even strong swimmers have little chance of successfully swimming short distances in cold water. The benefits of being a larger visual target and using the boat to keep you out of the water may outweigh the risk of swimming.
• Minimize movement that will consume valuable energy. Swim only to reach boats or floating objects that are very close to you. Minimize heat loss by remaining as still as possible. If you are alone use the Heat Escape Lessening Position (knees together, hugged close to the chest), if you are with others huddle in a group.
• Cover your head; more heat is lost from your head than any other part of your body.
• Do not remove any of your clothing.
When submerged in cold water your body loses heat 25 times faster than it will in the air. This is why it is important to dress for the water temperature. Being properly dressed can add a significant amount of time to your predicted life expectancy while submersed in cold water. This extra time could allow for your successful rescue.

— Courtesy of Gwendolynn Flynn,
Boating Education/Outreach Supervisor
Boating Division
Bureau of Outdoor Recreation
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection


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