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A Conversation with David White

By Melissa Jo Hill
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension

Summer is a great time to be on the water. For this episode of Extension Out Loud we talked with David White, of New York Sea Grant, about the basics of boating safety. Learn how you can help insure a safe and family-friendly experience on the great waterways of New York State.

Listen on:

PAUL TREADWELL: Welcome to extension out loud, a podcast from Cornell Cooperative Extension. I'm Paul Treadwell. And here we are in the middle of summer, seemed like a good time to talk about boating and boat safety. And for our conversation today I talked to David White is with New York City grant. He's the recreation and tourism specialist and Associate Director of the Great Lakes Research Consortium. Dave, when we talk about boats, that's a pretty large term. I mean, I think of tugboats, I think of ocean liners. But when we talk about boat safety in New York State, what kind of boats are we talking about?

DAVID WHITE: You know, what I always refer to people is if you can ride on it, or in it, you should consider it a boat. In that way, you just start right off from whether it's a paddleboard paddle, paddle board, kayak, canoe, power boat, pontoon boat up to a yacht, you know, those are all forms of boats. We have them all in New York throughout the Finger Lakes in Great Lakes across the state. We just have awesome vessels and each one of them has a different set of safety requirements, but there's a lot of basics and you always got to start with like jackets.

PAUL TREADWELL: Okay, so even if you're on a paddleboard, just paddling around in your pond, you should have a life jacket.

DAVID WHITE: Absolutely. In fact, if you're on a paddleboard, we'll start with a requirement you're required to have a lake check onboard every vessel, the right size, the right shape, US Coast Guard approved. I always remind people it has to say US Coast Guard approved on it because there's a lot of places where you can get them from overseas that they are not US Coast Guard approved under the age of 12 have to have it on at all times when they're underway. If you're on a personal watercraft, you're being pulled behind. You have to have a life jacket on, so there's some confusion. But when it comes to paddle safety, you don't have to wear it but there's no place else to put it. You know, I've got a paddle board. I have a pedal paddle board I got a kayak if you don't have it, I do have it strapped someplace and the whole concept is it has to be accessible. So if you're on a paddleboard kayak one thing to be looking at maybe is an inflatable, especially trying to paddleboard inflatables are great I'm a huge fan of inflatables, you know, they don't mess with your tan you can get them to back all the important stuff that people think about when they're out on the boat. So baseline requirement of life jackets really there for us.

PAUL TREADWELL: Okay, so when you say inflatable, I was think of, you know, airline safety and you can reach under your seat and pull that is that same thing. Are we talking about a different beast?

DAVID WHITE: It kind of looks like that. I mean, it's all folded up. I mean, I have one that's a fanny pack. It's all folded up looks like a fanny pack, or the around the collar, of course, you can but you know, they're in clothes, they look really nice. But when you pull the lever, it is the same as if you were on an airplane, it really gets the same basic concept. It's got a co2 cartridge on it and it inflates.

PAUL TREADWELL: So whenever you go out if you're going to set foot on a paddleboard or kayak your rowboat any kind of boat you're on, you should have a lifejacket that's Coast Guard approved. Yes, absolutely. So that's baseline for every watercraft.

DAVID WHITE: Absolutely, it's what will provide everybody the safety and security they need to have as I say to you're going to survive until your rescued and that's what having a good life jacket on board. And then every vessel has to have a sound-producing device. So all those vessels I just talked about every life jacket I own I have a whistle on so Wherever I am, I have a sound. And that again is just so you can get people's attention if you're in the water. And then depending on the type of vessel, we start talking about flares and fire extinguishers and flags and all the other requirements and recommended equipment you have to have onboard and the more intense your boat is if you will or the more product you have on board then the more safety equipment you have to have for yourself and everybody else.

PAUL TREADWELL: Okay, so kayak, I should have my lifejacket and my whistle.

DAVID WHITE: Absolutely.

PAUL TREADWELL: Let's jump into, what are the most common boating accidents that people have. What are we protecting ourselves against?

DAVID WHITE: Couple of things. One is just lack of attention. Boating is family-friendly fun, you always have to go there. I mean, that's what we want, like about boating, we have great waterways across New York State. So it is just a fun thing to do with the family, with your friends, or even if you're just out for your own solo day. And it's easy to lose track of attention to what's going on around you so it's being attentive being prepared. And I always remind people to take 15 minutes to prepare yourself before you go out. Make sure you've got all the safety gear to make your mind is in the right place. If you're going to be out having an adult beverage, do you have someone who's going to be able to drive the boat in your place? Everybody's going to need to be certified and have taken the course by 2025. So you know if you've got some young kids, and you get them certified to operate the boat, you've got a designated driver with you at all time.

PAUL TREADWELL: So what is the certification that you're speaking of?

DAVID WHITE: In New York state boaters have to take an eight-hour course they can take it online or in-person from all of our friends in blue Coast Guard Auxiliary sheriff. I'm a volunteer instructor with the state of New York. By 2025, it's called Brianna's law, everybody who operates a motorized vessel in the state of New York will have to have taken the course and passed it, and have their certificate.

PAUL TREADWELL: So if I have a kayak and I put a little electric motor on it to putter around for fishing, I would still have to take the course.

DAVID WHITE: Yeah, you make a great point because a lot of people were now doing that. They'll put in an engine, you know, back in the day you put an engine on a canoe, there were actually mechanisms to do that, you'll see a lot of people putting in an electric motor. And as I always say, when people go, Well, that's not really a boat, it's not, you know, I go, well, it's a motor on a boat. So it is whether it's propane, electric gas, or diesel or solar, they are all motor. So as soon as you take and put, any kind of propulsion on a sailboat, paddle craft, you've turned it into a powerboat. And you actually have to register as a powerboat. And you have to have all the required equipment of a powerboat because now you have power propulsion. So you've actually changed from a paddle craft, or sail craft to a power craft. So you have to now conform to all requirements of a power craft.

PAUL TREADWELL: I'm not a big boater. So is it just my ignorance that makes all this surprising to me? Or is it is common knowledge across the boating community?

DAVID WHITE: I'm loving hearing it in your voice because it's just something that again, I hear from a lot of folks, well, no, I don't need to have that. Because I'm just putting a small electric motor on, there's really no difference than a two and a half electric motor from a two and a half gas-powered motor except how it's propelled, you still have all of the same issues of you're now in a moving craft. Got to be prepared for that. Now I got a battery on board. So you've added a whole different dimension to the paddle craft and turning it into a power craft. So you have to be prepared for that. It's those kinds of things. And sure we take it for granted. We really don't think about it. But then once you do you begin to think Well, yeah, because I am now under power.

PAUL TREADWELL: So on my kayak, I go from needing to have on a life jacket and a whistle. I put my electric motor on it. Now, what do I need?

DAVID WHITE: Depending on the size of your kayak, you might need a fire extinguisher, you might need a flare, you might need a rescue flag. So again, you begin to ranch it up because now you're under power, and you become a powerboat. So actually then the guy paddling by you, he has the right away over you. So you've changed the entire tenor of that vessel. It's now become a motorized vessel. And it's just something that a lot of us haven't thought about because these are small engines like you say to putter around, but you've added some different dimensions to that vessel that you just have to be prepared for.

PAUL TREADWELL: Do you have any idea what are the proportion of how do I say non-powered versus powered boats? are most people do they own powered boats or do they own like kayaks, canoes, things like that?

DAVID WHITE: The numbers vary region by region, body of water by body of water, but I will tell you the wonderful thing is because of the proliferation of paddleboards and kayaks, paddleboards, pedal kayaks into the industry. We brought a whole new group of folks into the family of boating and I just think it's fabulous. I have an inflatable paddleboard and an inflatable kayak that would easily fit in the front trunk of a Volkswagen Beetle. And a very small percentage of the audience that's listening to this understands what I mean by that. For the rest of the world. It's the size of a tent or a small backpack. So if you get folding paddles with it, you can have your inflatable lifejacket. So all of a sudden you've opened boating to the entire society, which I think is just fabulous because great opportunity to take advantage of the wonderful waterways whether you're up in the Adirondacks, the Catskills, the Finger Lakes, out west, across the state of New York being able to participate in it. And, you know, I keep telling them what a great way to welcome folks into the family of boating but to get them started on a paddleboard or kayak.

PAUL TREADWELL: Just to get ridiculous here if I took my tube and I was going to be tubing, and I put a motor on it.

DAVID WHITE: Number one, you can't do that. Because a tube if you look at it and says this is a port, okay, most of those products, if you look at them, say this is a toy. Now let's transfer that over and now you're going to be towed by a boat on that toy. That toy is no different than a surfboard pair of skis, or anything else that you want to be pulled on behind the boat, you need to have a life jacket on. And we'll take it one step further. If it's let's say a personal watercraft if you are towing someone behind a personal watercraft, it has to be a three-person, personal watercraft because you need to have room for the operator to spotter and in case something happens to that person in the water behind you. You need to be able to rescue them and bring them back to shore. So you know a lot of folks will have a two-seater jetski in a pulling somebody behind it. Well, if something happens to that person, they can't get them back to shore. Or a lot of times you'll see a two or 3 person jetski. And they're pulling like four or five people on a raft behind it. And again, it's fun, as we always say, Oh, nothing can go wrong. And they're correct. nothing goes wrong until it does.

PAUL TREADWELL: So if I'm going to water ski, I just can't go out with my buddy Fred and jump on the skis. Well, I can, but I'm not doing it safely or legally, correct? Is it legal? Or is it just a matter of safety? Is there a law that says this has to be Yeah, the way? Okay, yeah. What laws do dictate what small boat owners have to adhere to? I mean, how do you find out about those things?

DAVID WHITE: Yeah, we're fortunate in New York, our partners in New York state parks have an awesome website. It has all the boating information it has all the information on getting your certificate boating is family-friendly fun what we're talking about is all the prep time so that when you're out on the water you're just having a good time you can go online there are online boating safety classes you can take your registered for it they have the boater guide that tells you for the type of boat you have, what kind of equipment you need to have onboard. I got into a great discussion yesterday with one of the neighbors that you know he was going to be going out Lake fishing and I said you have to have a white all-around light on board and he goes what for and like so people can see you night. We don't have headlights. So you know it's different. That booklet is online tells you all the things in it tell you about the type of craft you have. So it will tell you if you have a paddle craft, what safety gear do you need to have? What are the rules of the road? Again, if you take that pallet craft and put in an engine, what do you need to have? If you're in a 15-foot boat? What do you need to have if you're in a 26-foot powerboat? So all of that's listed so it's all right there. I say to folks, your safety equipment just I travel with my boat safety kit. And I'm doing demonstrations and in that small Tupperware container is all the safety gear I need. I check it at the beginning of the year. I make sure it's all correct. It's you know the flares are not outdated, the fire extinguisher works. And I just have it all right there and it says right on both safety kit. So if there's ever a problem, there it is. I hope I never have to open it but I'm well prepared in case I do insurance. That's good to know.

PAUL TREADWELL: If people want to find out more about your work at Sea Grant, check the website is that how they would do it?

DAVID WHITE: The best way is to check our website you know, use your favorite search engine if you want to find out more about laws. Again, state parks has a great website US Coast Guard Auxiliary, our partners there have a great website Dec has a great website with a lot of the launch ramps. If you are a paddle craft person, here's a challenge to you is we're coming out of COVID pick a different body of water every weekend to go to find a launch ramp, launch your kayak make sure you're cleaning it before you go out to remove any invasive species. We got our clean green drying program going on. So make sure you're not transporting any invasive species. But New York has a wealth of water-based resources and we have canals, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, big lakes, little lakes. What a great thing to do with your family. If you're getting into paddle craft pick a different location to go to every weekend. And I would guess within an hour drive everybody in New York, they could go someplace different every weekend during the summer.

PAUL TREADWELL: Thanks, Dave for taking time out. I know it's a busy time of year for you. We appreciate your sage wisdom and advice here. Hope everybody has an enjoyable time out on the water and stay safe.

DAVID WHITE: Absolutely. Thanks for having me and have a fun family-friendly time out on New York water.

PAUL TREADWELL: Thanks for listening to this episode. Extension Out Loud was produced and edited by Paul Treadwell.

KATIE BAILDON: For more about this episode including show notes and more visit Extension Out Loud dot com, and be sure to subscribe to Extension Out Loud on your favorite podcast directory.

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