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Boating on Florida's Adventure Coast: How the US Coast Guard Auxiliary Helps You Stay Safe

Our spectacular region of the Gulf of Mexico is inviting for many boaters. Its shallow clarity is ideal for fishing, scalloping, snorkeling or just exploring. Whatever type of craft you use on the water, from kayak to sail or powered vessel, here are four key elements to boat smart and stay safe.

On the water, safety is no accident; it’s the result of your careful and thorough planning. Also vital is the support of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Hello, I am Jim Nastelli, Immediate Past Flotilla Commander of the Hernando Beach Coast Guard Auxiliary. We are the all-volunteer uniformed branch of the U.S. Coast Guard. As a service to boaters, we conduct boat and aircraft safety patrols on a regular basis. Members offer their own personal boats and airplanes for these missions. These facilities, as we call them, are manned by members of our Flotilla on a voluntary basis. Members purchase our own uniforms and donate our time to participate in training classes and missions.

We work with the active duty folks and our primary focus is recreational boating safety. Maximize these four ways to have fun as a smart, safe boater.

Learn it: Training

Gain skills and confidence with a wide selection of boating courses available to the public at a very reasonable cost. Our courses run from a half day to one night per week for nine weeks. Successful completion of two of our classes, About Boating Safely and Boating Skills and Seamanship earns the attendee an official safe boater card.

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Check it: Vessel Safety

Qualified Flotilla members conduct free vessel safety checks on personal boats. These exams are available anywhere, anytime. We will gladly come to where your boat is located.

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Part of our check includes ensuring that you have all the proper safety equipment. The examiner checks for all required and all recommended items and their serviceability. Once checked, we encourage you to keep your boat in tip-top condition. A VHF radio is not required but is highly recommended. Cell phones have a very limited range and you cannot count on having cell service when you need it the most.

Plan it: Float Plan

Before you even leave the house, file a float plan with a responsible person. A float plan lays out things like:

  • Time you plan to launch
  • Where you plan to go
  • How long you plan to be out
  • What time you estimate returning. 

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It also includes information on your boat and what survival equipment you have onboard. This is extremely valuable to us, the Coast Guard, and/or anyone else tasked with looking for you, should you not return on time. It can literally mean the difference between life and death in an emergency. 

Wear it: Life Jackets

Finally, do not set foot on that boat until you and all participants put on an approved personal flotation device (PFD), more commonly known as a life jacket. Disaster strikes without warning and trust me, you cannot put on a PFD while trying to tread water. An approved PFD will keep your face out of the water even if you are unconscious. At the very least, children under the age of 14 MUST wear a PFD anytime they are on deck on a vessel under way. Remember, it floats, you don’t.

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Go out and enjoy the water!

Now that you’ve taken one or more of our classes, your boat is in primo condition, and you’ve filed that float plan, put your PFD on and head out. Remember sun protection, nourishment, and hydration. Don’t skimp on any of these because you just never know when old man Murphy might strike.

As our motto says, we are always prepared.

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Photos courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

 

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Author: James E. Nastelli, Immediate Past Commander, Flotilla 15-8, Hernando Beach

James E. Nastelli was born in Mechanicsburg, PA and lived in Carlisle until age 15. The family moved to southern Maryland and he graduated from Great Mills High School in 1965.

He served in the Marine Corps for 26 years, attaining the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant. He retired to Virginia in 1991. He is married with two children and two step-children, and has lived in Spring Hill since 2000. He attended Northern Virginia Community College and earned two degrees, an AA in General Studies and an AS in Radiologic Technology. He worked in radiology until 2007 when he retired full time. He has been around boats in one form or another for over 40 years, and is proud to share his knowledge and dedication to boating safety.

James has been a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary since January 2014 and is currently the Commander of Flotilla 15-8 in Hernando Beach. He is active as an aerial observer as well as a vessel examiner.