It's not breaking news to say that the pandemic changed our habits in seismic ways. We picked up new hobbies. We found new activities to do by ourselves. Some of those activities we might've pursued without the strongest base of knowledge.

One of the industries that experienced an enormous increase over the last three years was boating. This might not come as a surprise. It's a relaxing activity that can easily be done solo. In an unprecedented era where social isolation became the norm, it made sense to channel your inner Jimmy Buffett if you had easy access to water — as we Tri-Staters do, thanks to the lovely Mississippi.

Safe Boating Week is an annual event that occurs at the end of May. That's why Ed O'Neill of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in Dubuque, wanted to stop by the studio and take a few minutes to discuss safe boating practices. The last couple years have brought on an onslaught of new (and thus inexperienced) boaters to the water. It was a good time to dive into some critical, need-to-know information.

O'Neill comes with 24 years of experience with the U.S. Coast Guard.

"There's been a significant increase in the number of boaters over the last couple of years, in particular during the pandemic," O'Neill said, echoing the statistics. "In fact in the last year, boat sales were at an all time high. This has created a lot of new boaters on the waterways. Because of that, the boating statistics tell us there have been some fatalities [....] a lot of that can be brought back to the fact that people had very little knowledge of what they were getting into."

O'Neill said one of the most fundamental things you can do before hitting the water is understanding the makeup and limitations of your boat, or "vessel."

"Some of those limitations [include] the size of the vessel, [...] how many people are gonna be in it, [....] the type of the water [you're gonna be on], and the weather conditions," O'Neill said.

O'Neill said "Boater Education" classes offered by the Coast Guard teach students how to develop a "float-plan:" a comprehensive guide that takes all the aforementioned factors and more into consideration before setting sail.

"The more comfortable we are on the water, the more enjoyment we'll have. And really the only reason we're going on the water is for enjoyment. So, [the Coast Guard's] plea is 'let's do things safely.' When we do things safely, we do things in the right order."

The beauty of a float-plan is it helps you be in complete control and have total knowledge of the machine you're operating. It aids in your understanding of what your boat can do, how to dock, how to trailer, how to move aboard the vessel, understand your obligations as a captain or crewmember, and more.

Promoting comfort on the water, an environment not native to us, is what it's all about, O'Neill said.

The 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics offer a plethora of insights and useful information regarding boater safety. You can also contact the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary right here in Dubuque in order to obtain more information about classes for novice boaters. They're located at 60 East 1st Street in Dubuque and can be reached at 563-582-1965.

Take a listen to my full interview with Ed O'Neill of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary below!


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