Statistics say it all: more than 100 people die in the Great Lakes every year, said Kent City School Resource Officer Scott Cook. That’s one reason, as he puts it, “Kids need to know this stuff.”
Scott, who has served with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department for 20 years, sprinkles his boating safety classes with stories that come from his personal experiences.
“Nearly every fatality or drowning that I have been involved with wouldn’t even have been a call if the person had been wearing their life jacket,” Cook told middle school students recently.
Every seventh-grader in Kent City, as well as many other Kent County schools, takes this or a similar course, in which they learn basic water safety rules. In Kent City, the course is part of the standard physical education curriculum.
One story Cook told students involved two people fishing in not-so-deep water on a nearby inland lake. When their boat tipped over, they panicked. One didn’t make it back to shore.
“If they had been wearing their life vests or knew what to grab ahold of, they would have survived,” he said.
The Basics and Drunk Goggles
The classes include water safety basics, such as how to fit a life jacket. Students also discuss best practices in a wide variety of probable incidents, including a man-overboard or engine fire.
Effects of alcohol and drugs on driver safety are an important part of the class. Cook fit one of the students with what are commonly known as “drunk goggles,” to demonstrate how difficult it is to stay in control of a boat when impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Other rules every boat driver needs to know in order to stay legal and safe — and keep others safe — include: proper direction for a boat to enter a waterway; how far a boater has to stay from another boat, personal watercraft or naval vessel; and how to recognize a diver-down flag that warns of a scuba diver in the area.
The course includes preparation for and time to take the state test required for boating safety certification. This qualifies students for an operator’s license for all watercraft, including personal water-borne vehicles popular among local teens.