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Coast Guard aims to keep boaters safe this summer

Killian McCormack, 2, of Hampton Bays, waves to

Killian McCormack, 2, of Hampton Bays, waves to his mother from the helm of the 47 foot Coast Guard vessel Shinnecock during an open house event at Coast Guard Station Shinnecock in Hampton Bays, July 5, 2014. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

As more people begin the seasonal trek to Long Island beaches, Coast Guard stations are gearing up to keep boaters safe on local waters.

On Saturday, Coast Guard Station Shinnecock hosted an open house to teach people about boater safety.

"This is the one time of year where the public gets to touch and feel the Coast Guard and see what it's all about," Coast Guard spokesman Michael Himes said.

Fred Furnell, event organizer and staff officer with the Coast Guard Auxiliary's 18th Division, said the auxiliary is the Coast Guard's uniformed, volunteer wing that strives for accident prevention through education.

The auxiliary offered free vessel inspections, checking for life jackets, buoys, whistles, horns and unexpired fire extinguishers and flares. Auxiliary staff said expired flares are the most common problem.

Though inspections are not mandatory, boaters face fines if the Coast Guard catches them on the water with substandard equipment.

Visitors also toured the guard's vessels, including a 25-foot fast response boat, two 47-foot motor lifeboats, which are airtight and can roll 360 degrees if tipped, and a 49-foot buoy tender vessel, used for lighthouse, beacon and buoy maintenance.

Yesterday, children were invited to sit in the captains' seats and blow the ships' horns.

Heather MacGill of Moriches brought her sons, Colin, 10, and Ryan, 13, who both have their boat safety certificates.

"Living near the water, they need to be comfortable with how boats work -- and how search and rescue works," she said. "And they have to have an appreciation for the people who keep them safe on the water."

"It's great to see our tax dollars at work," said Joe Brady of Peekskill, New York. He said he was especially impressed with the volunteer auxiliary staff.

"How lucky are we to live in a country where we have volunteers who learn to use this equipment to save our lives -- whether we deserve it or not?" he said.

The event also featured a dog demonstration by the Suffolk County Sheriff's K-9 unit, and a chance to watch a local marine research group release a rehabilitated seal back into the ocean.

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