Captain shares safe boating practices; Boy Scouts offers varied water sports programs

WESTFIELD-As the Memorial Day weekend kicks off many recreational activities including boating, boys and girls joining Boy Scouts of America will find introductory and exploratory programs this summer at the Horace A. Moses Scout Reservation in Russell.

“We feel that learning safe boating skills at a young age is critical because most of these scouts will encounter boating again in their lives, and having a strong foundation will set them up for success,” said Brian Regan, adult leader for Sea Scout Ship 303 of the Western Massachusetts Council of Boy Scouts of America.

The Horace A. Moses Scout Reservation in Russell offers a variety of programs for young people. (BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA PHOTO)

The Western Massachusetts Council is located at 1 Arch Road, Suite 5, in Westfield, and can be reached by calling (413) 594-9196 or visiting www.wmascouting.org for local troops in the area.

Regan explained that should an emergency occur and scouts find themselves in a situation they were not expecting, the basic knowledge learned through the boating program will provide them with helpful skills to assist others.

“Exposure to a wide variety of activities such as boating at this time also helps to open one’s eyes to possible hobbies or careers that they may never have thought of,” said Regan.

Other water-related programs offered this summer at camp include swimming and lifesaving skills, as well as learning about canoes, kayaks, row boats and sailboats. Additionally, a grant has been received to add the Stand Up Paddleboard program to offerings, and a scuba program is being offered by staff members from At the Water’s Edge dive shop in Westfield.

Arthur Lobdell, assistant scout executive at the Western Massachusetts Council, noted the organization charters a specialized unit called a Sea Scout Ship as well as engages youth and families in all manner of boating programs. 

“We have a new Council volunteer called the Council Commodore,” said Lobdell.

In a statement, Council Commodore Captain Morgan Fiszel offered some timely advice for those venturing onto to waters this summer.

“Preparation is everything,” said Fiszel, who is the owner/operator of Captain Morgan’s Boat Training and Charters LLC. He is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed master captain and has a network of captains from Salem, Mass., to the Chesapeake Bay in the mid-Atlantic region. He resides in Wethersfield Cove, Conn.

“Before you get underway know your boat, whatever that boat may be,” said Fiszel. “Be aware of your boat’s capacity. You don’t want to be in a situation that may cause difficulty to control your vessel or worse, capsize.”

Fiszel said it is also important to tell others that you will be out on your boat and where you will be boating.

“Commonly known as a ‘Float Plan,” it is always a good idea to inform a responsible person of your time out on the water and your plans to return,” he said. “That way they can take action if you have deviated from the plan to ensure your safety and that of others on your vessel.”

Fiszel said a float plan/template form can easily be found online.

“Print and complete one to give to your contact person,” he said. “One more important step to take is to ensure that all passengers have appropriate fitting life jackets and know where to find them.”

Fiszel added that children under 13 are required to wear a life jacket whenever underway unless the child is below deck and in a closed cabin.

“Reference the U.S. Coast Guard website for types of approved life jackets and requirements,” he added.

Preparing for emergencies is also part of any plan and all vessels are required to have a fire extinguisher to be prominently accessible.

“The types of fire extinguishers required for your vessel is based on different vessel types,” said Fiszel. “Make sure to understand what type and how many your vessel needs.”

Potential dangers can also be encountered while on the water and Fiszel said to watch for “visual distress signals.”

“These signals include flares, light signals, and distress flags,” said Fiszel. “The U.S. Coast Guard provides a list of approved visual distress signals and what is required on your vessel.”

“Responsible items” to also have on board include a waterproofed cell phone, plenty of water, sunscreen and a first aid kit.

“If you venture from shore you may want to consider purchasing a VHF radio to summon help,” said Fiszel. “Know what channels and phone numbers to use should you need assistance.”

Also, as of April 1, Fiszel noted that operators of power vessels under 26’ are required to wear the engine cut-off cord.

“This applies to waterways under USCG jurisdiction,” he said. “Certain exceptions apply. Be sure to make becoming familiar with this and other rules part of your planning.”

As parents consider involving their children in scouting – and troops begin planning their summer camping experiences – the local Council offers a wide variety of recreational programs for young people of all ages.

“For some scouts, this will be their only opportunity to go boating this year and it’s just another tool that they can put into their toolbox,” said Regan. “Even if they don’t ever use it again, it’s there at their disposal.”

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