HARVEYS LAKE — If you see members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary while boating on a local lake, they might ask you a question.
And it would be a good idea to answer in the affirmative.
With the summer boating season getting underway, auxiliary members have been busy offering free vessel safety checks, inspecting everything personal flotation devices to battery connections. There is no penalty if a boat doesn’t pass the voluntary inspection, but there is a major risk if you decide to hit the water with a craft that isn’t in full compliance.
“We want to make sure you’re safe on the water. That’s our goal,” said James Sheridan, Division Commander of Division 15-Northern Lakes, which covers parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Those boats that pass a safety check are issued a Coast Guard Auxiliary decal that informs law enforcement agencies that the craft was inspected. Not only are the checks free, Sheridan said, the auxiliary makes the process convenient by visiting boaters at lakes and rivers and even arranging appointments to conduct inspections at their residence.
Division 15 conducts safety checks throughout the summer at Harveys Lake, Beltzville Dam, Lake Wallenpaupack and the Susquehanna River. Sheridan said now is the peak time to get an inspection completed and address any issues.
“Boating season usually starts in May, but with the weather it’s been delayed this year,” he said. “Nine out of 10 people we approach at the lakes say yes to a safety check, and about 80 percent are usually in compliance.”
The auxiliary offered safety checks at Harveys Lake on June 6 and, despite rainy conditions, inspected 15 boats. Division 15 typically conducts up to 700 safety checks per year throughout the area, and most of them are done while the boats are lined up waiting to use the launch. Sheridan said the inspection takes about 15 minutes and is usually finished by the time the boat is ready to launch.
Another safety check will be held at Harveys Lake later this summer, he said, and the service is offered for fishing boats, recreational craft, paddle boats and kayaks.
Sheridan said the auxiliary works closely with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission safety requirements.
John Cummings, a waterways conservation officer with the PFBC, said when he sees a boat with an auxiliary decal it tells him that person cares about being safe.
When Cummings does board a boat, he still conducts an inspection regardless of the presence of a sticker, mainly to make sure there are enough life jackets and sound devices for the number of people on board.
“We still have to do our due diligence,” Cummings said. “But when I see that decal, it tells me the operator is conscientious enough about safety that they had a professional from the auxiliary go over their boat.”
The auxiliary inspections are actually more in-depth than a safety check conducted by the PFBC, delving into aspects such as ventilation and gas lines.
Sheridan said life jackets are always a major focal point, especially if there are children on the boat.
“We make sure they fit a child properly because if it doesn’t, if that child goes in the water the life jacket can push off right over their head,” he said. “We also highly recommend that boats carry an anchor, especially on the river.”
The safety checks are also educational, warning about the dangers of low-head dams, the correct protocols for using a jet ski and reminding boaters that even though they are out in the day it’s a good idea to make sure the navigation lights are working.
“That is the most common thing that people aren’t aware of. You need a red and green on the front and a white on the stern,” Sheridan said. “They need to be checked because, even if you’re planning on staying out only in the daylight, you never know what might happen that could keep you out after dark.”
Sheridan also cautions that experience is no substitute for safety.
“Sometimes people that have been boating for a long time get complacent, so a safety check is a good reminder,” he said.