I was lucky. Parallel parking didn't trip me up on my driver's license test when I was 16 like it did my friends. However, it was the ticket for "negligent colliding," a.k.a. hitting garbage cans, that temporally suspended my driving privileges. But that's another story for another day.
A few years later when I realized the magnetic power that draws women to motorcycles, I studied the driver's ed handbook over a bowl of Frosted Flakes before breezing through the written exam. And despite just barely passing the driving test on a bike that was arguably too big for me at the time, I proudly drove away with the motorcycle endorsement on my license. It was probably a year later before I felt comfortable giving someone a ride, but don't worry, I made up for lost time quickly.
While working in a factory one summer I got promoted to run the forklift, which was a lot better gig than what I was doing up to that point. But before I was allowed on that old beat-up forklift, my boss made me get certified to operate it. Looking back now, this decision probably saved lives, including my own.
So what's the common connection among all these scenarios? I was required to pass some type of test before I was given the keys, which is a lot more than I can say for the boating industry. Stay with me here; don't turn the page either by hand or electronically if you're reading this online. Give me a chance to persuade you if you don't like the idea of making boat drivers pass some type of test before launching a boat.
If you want to operate just about any other type of vehicle-a car, a scooter, a motorcycle, an airplane, a helicopter-you've got to pass a test proving you have some basic knowledge about safely operating the vehicle.
But for boats, you just climb behind the helm and take off. Your only "requirement" is to make sure you stock the cooler first. Maybe it's time we rethink this. Requiring people who plan to take a vessel, some with the capabilities of traveling at freeway speeds, to take a safety course and pass a basic test doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
Every boater should know basic navigational rules and have a solid working knowledge of the laws designed to keep boaters on our waterways safe.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, only 14 percent of all boating fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction. The only way to truly ensure that every boater is exposed to that instruction is to require they pass a test and get a boating license.
There are several online boating safety courses available; there's a list from the U.S. Coast Guard at www.uscgboating.org/safety/courses.htm. I went to www.boat-ed.com, took a practice test and had a passing score in less than an hour. But I must admit that although a lot of the 75 questions seemed obvious to me, there were a few that served as good reminders.
If nothing else, this online test proved to me that even though I've been boating and around boats my entire life, I don't know it all. There are still plenty of questions that I didn't truly know the answers to.
My hope isn't to discourage people from getting into boating or from enjoying their boats, but to help reduce boating tragedies. Someday every boater will be required to be exposed to at least a minimal amount of safety information before heading out on the water, at least that's what I'd like to see happen.