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Keeping people safe on the water

posted Jun 15, 2011, 12:33 PM by   [ updated Jun 18, 2011, 6:00 AM ]
FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2011

Dennis O'Brien enjoys the tranquility of being out in his sailboat, hearing nothing but the wind. Elaine Pfaff says that time spent in her powerboat is relaxing, especially when she and her husband drop anchor in a cove to eat a meal.

The Montville Township residents may prefer different kinds of boat experiences, but both agree that boaters can never take enough classes in order to be safe on the water.

O'Brien and Pfaff were recently installed to bridge posts in the Lackawanna Sail & Power Squadron (LSPS), a unit of the United States Power Squadrons, a non-profit recreational boating organization founded in 1914 to promote safe boating through education.

O'Brien became involved with the organization after spending about 10 years sailing on small lakes in a Sunfish sailboat. With dreams of chartering a boat to sail around the Virgin Islands, O'Brien looked for a group that would give him training. He has taken every class offered by LSPS, and some more than once, as refresher courses. In 2003, deciding that he had enough book training and it was time for practical experience, O'Brien purchased a bigger sail boat, which he keeps down in Florida. He also recently received LSPS certification to teach.

Because New Jersey requires that all boaters take a basic course and get boat certification, many people have reached out to LSPS. Like O'Brien and Pfaff, some, then go on to take other courses, even becoming members. O'Brien said that LSPS is a good organization, providing educational training and social activities for people with common interests, even if they do not have a boat. Yes, there are many members who do not own a boat.

LSPS offers several educational opportunities in Montville Township. Basic boating is given at the library and there are five seminars each spring and again in autumn at the Senior House. Larger classes and advanced training take place at Honeywell International's campus in Morristown.

Classes are at a pace determined by the student and the organization has no real requirements to becoming a member. O'Brien stressed that it is up to the individual to decide how involved he or she wants to be.

Pfaff has been a member of LSPS for four years, but has been connected with the organization since 1978, through her husband, a past commander. She said being a member makes her a better person because she is giving back to the community through safe boating. Like, O'Brien, she has received her teaching certification and although she has yet to teach a class, Pfaff has assisted at seminars. She also does vessel safety checks to make sure that boats are in compliance with state requirements.

She is dismayed by the lack of awareness over what items should be on a boat and how unprepared people are for the various problems that may arise. Fire extinguishers should always be present and be checked out. Life jackets should be open and not latched. When she does the vessel safety checks, Pfaff reviews everything with the owner.

Keeping children safe on the water is of particular interest to Pfaff. She noted that children 12 years-old and younger must wear life jackets, even when on a boat in a relatively shallow lake or on a pier. She warned that if a child should fall into the water, without a life jacket, that child may very well be lost, noting that even adults who can swim are in shock when they unexpectedly find themselves in the water.

Pfaff added that children should not be allowed to sit in the boats with their legs hanging over the water. Calling this an absolute, "no-no," Pfaff said parents could be fined.

Beyond keeping people safe on the water, LSPS, offers members social connections. "People become friends, we help each other, if there is a problem with a boat, members help, it is more of a family, as you get involved and know people, you create a bond or helping one another," said Pfaff.

O'Brien said that he would advise a would-be boat owner to find a friend with a boat and see if the experience is enjoyable, then seek out an organization and learn basic boating requirements. Once someone has had a feel for all that is involved in captaining a vessel, they are then ready to pursue it. He offered, "It is a lifelong process the learning and the practical [experience]."

Everyone at LSPS is happy to talk with anyone who might be interested in boats or membership, according to O'Brien. He encourages people to explore the benefits and opportunities LSPS makes available.

Pfaff said, "It is a very good organization to get involved in if a boater or contemplating becoming a boater to learn safe boating habits and get more knowledge. All boaters should belong, the more classes you take, the safer a boater you are."

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