Lake Norman & Mooresville

How new boaters learn to ride the waves

Boating safety classes begin at Lake Norman

Boating safety classes begin at Lake Norman
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Boating safety classes begin at Lake Norman

It’s a new boating season on Lake Norman, but before young and new boaters set a course on the water, some are required by law to finish an eduction course.

The Lake Norman Sail and Power Squadron has been offering a boater safety course since 1977, even though it wasn’t until 2010 that the state required anyone born since Jan. 1, 1988, to complete a boating education course to operate a boat with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater. The law applies to personal watercraft.

Russ Klein, education officer with the Lake Norman Sail and Power Squadron, has been instructing a boater safety course for the past 13 years. Klein said the organization is one of 350 nationwide, nonprofit squadrons. “Our mission is safe boating, fraternal boating and community service.”

You don’t know what you don’t know until you take this class.

Russ Klein

The 100 members on Lake Norman participate in advance boat safety training throughout the year. Klein said the organization offers the eight-hour Boating Skills and Safety Course four times a year for certification, averaging between 150 to 200 students per year.

For Mooresville resident Dereama Robinson, 61, and her husband, Richard Robinson, 63, the course was not required, but the couple felt it was a necessity to join the 22 other students on March 18.

Wanting to purchase their first boat, the couple joined a local boating club. “It had been a while since either of us had actually operated a boat,” she said.

Robinson was a little nervous about all the rules and regulations. “There are a lot of them,” she said.

Her husband quickly assured her that they would do well. “I am more interested in the navigational part,” he said.

The course consists of four sessions. The first, taught by Klein, covered getting started, safety equipment and boating basics such as bringing the boat to dock under differing wind conditions. The second session , taught by Alan Savage, covered navigational rules, navigational aids, lights and sound signals and regulation, both state and local.

Morris Sample, taught a session on finding your way, which included anchoring, adverse conditions and communications afloat. The final session, lead by Bobby Barber covered water sports safety, trailers and personal watercraft operation, including knots and lines.

Charlotte residents Ashley Crandall, 29, and her husband, Stephen Crandall, 30, worked hard to learn how to tie the bowline knot, one of the most-used nautical knots. The couple had enjoyed being passengers on her parents’ boat on Lake Norman, but came to learn so that they could operate the vessel.

“We want to take the reins and be the drivers of the boat. We came to get a little safety info and learn stuff we didn’t know so hopefully we can be effective operators of the boat,” said Stephen.

Klein said that many first-timers think piloting a boar is like driving a car. “You pick one, jump in and take off.”

But there is a lot more to a boat:Preparation, safety equipment, fueling procedures, rules of the water and how to navigate the lake.

“You don’t know what you don’t know until you take this class,” he said.

Besides the power squadron and other private parties, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission courses are held across the state. Online courses do allow boaters to meet mandatory education requirements and obtain an official certification card, but Klein advises against them.

He said there is a big difference between sitting at a computer answering questions and the all-day, hands-on experience you get with these qualified instructors. “The person sitting next to you asks a question that you didn’t even think about and you say ‘Oh I didn’t think about that’ and that is important,” he said.

“I have been boating all my life, I am always learning, whether it is a new boat or new situation. I enjoy making people feel comfortable about boating.

Marty Price is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

The Boating Skills and Safety Course is offered by the Lake Norman Sail and Power Squadron on April 15, May 13 and June 17 at the Duke Energy Environmental Center, McGuire Nuclear Station Road, in Huntersville. The class runs 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To register for the classes go to:

Learn more

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission brochure, with frequently asked questions about the classes, can be found here:

Classes online

The websites listed below for online courses on boating safety are not administered by North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. If you complete your boating safety training through a source other than the commission, you will be responsible for obtaining the necessary documentation to prove successful completion of the course through the course provider. The courses listed meet all education certification requirements for North Carolina.