Educating Ocean Users

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - November 18, 2009
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If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then the work of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is worth more than its weight in gold - some would say what they do is priceless.

Their tireless effort to educate ocean users seldom makes the nightly news, but make no mistake about it, they save lives.

“We are all volunteers, we don’t get paid,” says District Capt. Miles Arima. “The U.S. Coast Guard depends on us to educate the public. We save lives because we love our country.”

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is often confused with the U.S. Coast Guard. Perhaps the best way to separate the two is the Auxiliary educates, the Guard enforces. Despite their differences, both often receive the same welcome - and it’s not always a warm one.

“Sometimes when we show up people turn around and leave,” laughs Arima. “We want people to know we wear the light-blue shirts, kind of a calming effect.”

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary hopes ocean users will attend its next boat safety inspection and Jet-Ski safety seminar Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Maunalua Bay boat ramp.

“We’ll be doing courtesy vessel exams and boat safety inspections similar to car safety checks,” says Arima. “We’ll go down a list of equipment that federal and state agencies require to be on a boat.”

Arima says many boaters “go out with no cellular phone, no radio, no GPS” - some of the basic needs and requirements needed on the ocean. “If we can’t find them, we can’t help them.”

Arima’s team focuses its attention on educating ocean users from Diamond Head to Hawaii Kai. The recent death of a 17-year-old diver at Maunalua Bay highlights the constant need to educate. Keahihoku Lum was killed after he and a friend were run over by a 26-foot boat while diving near the channel. The medical examiner says Lum died from injuries after being struck by a boat’s propeller.

“Maunalua Bay is very congested to begin with, so we want to educate the public so they can leave safely and come back safely,” says Arima. “And it’s not just boaters that need to know. We’re talking all ocean users, Jet-Skis, divers, powerboats, stand-up paddlers and canoe paddlers.”

Arima says it’s been another busy year for accidents and incidents in the ocean. He says year-to-year comparisons indicate not everyone is on board yet and there’s plenty of work to be done.

Hawaii Boating Fatalities:

2009: five (year-to-date)
2008: five
2007: four
2006: four

Hawaii Boating Accidents:

2009: 20 (year-to-date)
2008: 27
2006: 13

Hawaii Boating Injuries:

2009: two (year-to-date)

2008: 0
2007: 24
2006: 0

Hawaii “Boating Under the Influence” (BUI):

2009: 0
2008: four
2007: one
2006: 0

“Most of it is operator error and that’s why boating safety courses are so important,” says Arima. “We need to teach everyone the rules of the ocean, similar to what motorists need to know about the rules of the road.”

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also will hand out pamphlets filled with information on GPS and marine radar requirements along with state requirement for divers to avoid accidents and even death.

“Once again, we’re here to educate, not enforce,” says Arima. “If we see you have an expired decal, we’ll let you know so you can get it up to date.”

Arima says most people understand it’s impossible to have a police officer at every street corner. The same could be said about the U.S. Coast Guard. It’s a big ocean out there, and everyone has a responsibility to do their part to prevent accidents before they happen.

A trip to Maunalua Bay’s Boat ramp in Hawaii Kai this Saturday is a good start. It may save a life.

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