Educational and Outreach Coordinator- Boat & Water Safety, Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission
Editor’s note: We interviewed VanDyke for the Pacific Northwest regional section but found that his perspective on the Washington boater education card and the boater safety education program is applicable to California, now that the state has embarked on its own boater card program. We present the applicable portion of the interview here. The full interview appears in the PNW section.
Derek VanDyke has been boating in the Pacific Northwest for many years, and he’s learned boating’s lessons along the way. When he saw the education coordinator position come open at State Parks, he knew he could put a lifetime of learning to work for Washington state, combining his passion and skills to raise awareness for recreational boating safety. He shared more about his work and boating safety with us.
Sea: Can you tell us what you do as the Educational Coordinator?
VanDyke: I manage Washington’s Mandatory Boater Education program and public outreach promoting recreational boating safety. The program promotes boater safety education to increase the level of boat operator competency and the understanding of navigation laws on the water, and to encourage safe boating practices like wearing a life jacket and never boating under the influence.
Tell us more about the Washington state boater education card.
Washington state law requires boater safety education for many boaters who operate a motorboat of 15 horsepower or greater. Washington’s basic education course curriculum is compliant with the national standard developed by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). The courses are delivered online by agency-approved course providers, in classrooms by law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Power Squadron and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and through a self-study program administered by state parks staff.
All online and classroom courses offered by outside organizations and vendors are required to meet NASBLA and agency standards.
Boaters who enroll in these courses learn a wide variety of skills that can make them a better boater. These include how to identify approaching vs. leaving boats in the dark, how to dock a boat with wind and currents in mind, how to read navigational markers, how to handle overboard situations and more.
How does having a Washington boater education card improve safety on the water?
According to the American Boating Association, there are thousands of boating accidents reported each year, and the U.S. Coast Guard has determined that 70 percent of these accidents are caused by human error — not craft or environmental conditions.
When you go out on the water uneducated, you put yourself and others at risk. When formally trained on techniques for safe and proper boating, boaters are far less likely to have accidents.
What have been the education program’s biggest accomplishments?
Currently, the program has issued over 318,000 boater education cards since it started in 2006. Our primary goal is to make boating safe and fun; I think improving the education level of boaters has been a great step in this process. We have seen a reduction in boating fatalities among boaters who are required to have mandatory boater education.
The program has also worked hard to develop strategic partnerships statewide. In 2016, the program implemented a full-time outreach team that works with partners in local communities to engage in boating safety outreach and education. In 2017, our team provided education and outreach at 44 events in 27 cities and 15 counties in Washington state and supported 150 partners that represented 60 organizations in their outreach efforts. It’s a grassroots approach that I think will be more effective in the long-term over traditional advertising methods.