Elementary school children in the area are always pleasantly surprised when a uniformed member of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary shows up to speak to their class.

Boating safety education is the primary responsibility of the USCG Auxiliary and given the large number of waterways in the area, classrooms are a convenient place to educate students about boating safety.

While choosing the right life jacket and how to stay safe aboard a boat are valuable topics for boaters of all ages, they are especially so for the youngest. That’s because the sooner kids learn these boating safety lessons, the more they’ll be able to enjoy what Auxiliary Coast Guard members hope will be years of outings on the water.

Whether it’s a routine Saturday fishing trip aboard the family bass boat or a surprise ride aboard the neighbour’s new pontoon, boating safety measures are important.

It is a topic promoted by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary in schools and other educational sites where the organization’s classes are held.

Lucille Vogel is the Public Affairs Representative with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary 16-01 Flotilla in Elizabeth City, one of three flotillas in Division 16 of the Fifth Auxiliary South Region. The other three are Flotilla 16-02 in Plymouth, Flotilla 16-04 at Cape Hatteras and Flotilla 16-07 on the Outer Banks.

Vogel said the organization is authorized by federal law to increase and support the operations of the United States Coast Guard. The auxiliary has no police authority, Vogel explained. Rather, it is a diverse group of honored civilian volunteers to help serve their country on its waterways.

“Boating safety is our priority responsibility and increases the Coast Guard in its many responsibilities,” she said. “We promote safe boating through public education courses and presentations from civic organizations.”

Auxiliary members train and also conduct water safety patrols and air patrols, Vogel said. They also carry out free safety checks on pleasure boats.

“We are also training to perform aids to navigation checks to help keep our waterways safe,” she added.

Potential Auxiliary Members must be a U.S. citizen, at least 17 years of age and capable of passing a security check.

The 16-01 flotilla in Elizabeth City has 32 members. Like other fleets, it includes trained members who visit boat dealers, marinas and boat shops to distribute information brochures and boating safety pamphlets.

Vogel noted another important task of qualified auxiliary inspectors: to perform free ship safety inspections on an annual basis. Life jackets and disposable life jackets are checked to ensure they meet Coast Guard specifications.

“The navigation lights of the ships are checked for proper functioning,” said Vogel. “Visual distress signals such as flares are (checked to make sure they are) up to date and lights are operational. When a vessel passes the safety inspection, a sticker is affixed to the vessel with the current year. “

Public education is an ongoing effort as new boaters are constantly entering the region’s waterways. Keeping boaters up to date with essential equipment aboard their boats saves lives every year, Vogel said.

There are auxiliary units located in all 50 states of the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.

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