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Long Island boating safety advocates: On July Fourth, learn before you launch

Suzanne Mora practices her boating skills during a

Suzanne Mora practices her boating skills during a boat certification program offered by the U.S. Power Squadrons on July 2, 2014 in Massapequa Park. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Adventurous types with a boat and a valid ID proving they are at least 20 can buzz around the crowded waters of the Long Island Sound or the Great South Bay -- no boating knowledge required.

But should they? That's a question the members of Long Island boater safety groups can answer with ease for first-time boaters: Learn before you launch.

Both the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and New York State Parks Department offer in-classroom safety courses, which are mandatory only for boaters age 19 and under. The state does not provide hands-on training on the water. That's why the Long Island District of the United States Power Squadron, a nationwide nonprofit boating safety organization, offers an eight-hour, $250 practical training course for novices.

Safety experts say it's better to learn about the potential problems of operating a powerboat with the guidance of an instructor than alone far from land or just a few hundred yards off the Long Island Sound.

"As people realize that handling a boat is not like handling a car, and they start to see that there is a need to learn more things, they start seeking out these programs," said Daniel Flinn, the Long Island squadron's district commander.

Unlike in-classroom or online safety courses, the Power Squadron's on-the-water training covers practical aspects of boating, like how to handle and steer the vessels, and the various responsibilities of the skipper, or captain.

Before the program's inception about six or seven years ago, Flinn said the only practical training option for Long Island residents was to hire a Coast Guard-certified professional captain, for about $100 per hour, for private lessons.

The district's 16 individual squadrons on Long Island also offer their own practical training courses, from South Shore to Peconic Bay, throughout the June to October boating season.

The instructors said one growing demographic among students is women, including many who previously would have relied on their husbands or boyfriends to handle a boat for them.

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