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Just because the Penobscot Bay Sail and Power Squadron has been around for 40 years, teaching generations of boaters, don’t think the club’s members don’t have a few new tricks up their sleeves.

And if you’re a 16- or 17-year-old who enjoys zooming around your local lake on a personal watercraft, you may want to take particular note … and perhaps visit the group’s booth at the 22nd annual Bangor Boating & Marine Show this weekend.

Safety ought to be a good enough reason to make youths pay attention … but judging from the scene at many of our lakes and ponds, it likely isn’t. This is:

"[Our basic boating course] meets the requirement of the new personal watercraft law, which is that youngsters, 16- and 17-year-olds, are not allowed to operate a [personal] watercraft unless they have an adult with them … or have completed a safe boating class," said Kathleen Mastbeth, the PBSPS’s education officer.

That’s right. As of January, state law has required the education of young personal watercraft operators. This summer will provide the first test of that law, and the Penobscot Bay Sail and Power Squadron is ready to make sure teens not only know how to drive their craft safely … but that they know there’s actually such a law in existence.

That’s just a small piece of the mission of the power squadron, however. Education is a prime driving force of the club, which provides free classes (the texts and materials are available for a small fee) for all Mainers who love being on the water.

And this weekend, visitors to the show at the Bangor Auditorium can find out a lot more about the group. Show hours: 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The Penobscot Bay squadron includes 143 members, while more than 80,000 members exist nationwide.

Rob Crone, the commander of the PBSPS, said he got involved with the group like many others: Already an avid boater, he sought a bit more information after he bought a 30-foot sloop back in 2002.

"I decided I really needed to know a little bit more before I felt comfortable going offshore," Crone said.

And the basic boating class is only a part of the power squadron curriculum.

On tap for this year are seminars on using charts, onboard weather forecasting, marine radio and GPS use. Also being offered is a new program called the U.S. Power Squadron University, which will allow boaters to work toward operator certificates for inland waters, coastal or offshore waters.

This year, however, the Penobscot power squadron expects to spend a lot of time teaching its basic boating course.

Crone said everyone — from big-boat ocean cruisers to small-craft paddlers — can benefit.

"Our course is focused in such a way that it’s good for beginners as well as advanced boaters," Crone said. "There’s something for everyone in there. It also is fine for kayakers and canoeists, right up through power and sail, through 65-foot ocean-going vessels."

Dick Jacobs, a past commander of the PBSPS, said his group has worked in relative obscurity for years, but loves doing the work that members volunteer to do.

"There are so many services that we have provided in 40 years," Jacobs said. "We really think it’s something that’s been underutilized and under-recognized in our community."

For instance, the group performs a number of vessel safety checks each year, either at a predetermined site, or as requested by an individual boater.

"We go through someone’s boat and make sure they have all the required safety equipment on board," Crone said, explaining that the checks are free and confidential. Last year the group did 72 such checks.

Interested boaters can go to the power squadron Web site — United States Power Squadrons® [Boating Education: Public Classes + Member Courses = Safe Boating] — and find an examiner near them who will set up a time to do a safety check at a mutually convenient time.

Crone said the responsibility for vessel safety checks has been transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadron. One point of emphasis may surprise some boaters.

It’s not the biggest craft that are of most concern this year.

"Interestingly enough the Coast Guard has asked us to focus on canoes and kayaks," Crone said. "Apparently that’s where the largest number of accidents are."

But as Jacobs warns, accidents can happen anywhere, at any time. Educating boaters — even veteran boaters who have spent a lot of time on the water — is important.

"The misperception is that you can buy a boat, and then go out on the water and go wherever you want to go, as fast as you want to go, or as slow, and not worry about anyone else because you’re the commander of your boat and you can do it," Jacobs said.

With a small time commitment from boaters and the volunteer efforts by the Penobscot Bay Sail and Power Squadron, people like Jacobs are hoping they can educate even more Maine boaters about the fallacy of that way of thinking … whether you’re in a power boat at sea, or in a kayak in your local small pond.
 
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