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Coast Guard Auxiliary serves a safety need

January 26, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Ray Forrester spent two hours of a recent Tuesday night at Faust Junior High School speaking at length about trailer hitches, transmissions, radiators, brakes and other automotive matters that are essential to almost anyone interested in boating.

Because most boats spend more time at the owners' houses than in the water, Forrester's lecture in the 13-week Boating Skills and Seamanship course offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary focused on "how to get from here to there."

That means towing a boat, something anyone needs to consider before buying one that is bigger than the car he drove to the dealership. Forrester noted, for example, that the van he drives is rated to pull up to 10,000 pounds, far more than he ever would contemplate towing.

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There are 34,000 members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, including the 34 of Flotilla 56 of the Fifth District Northern Region, according to Richard Marsiglia of Mont Alto, Pa., who joined in 2000. Forrester, a Shippensburg, Pa., resident who joined a year earlier, is flotilla commander.

"We are the civilian arm of the U.S. Coast Guard and we're charged with boating safety and public education about boating safety," said Marsiglia. The flotilla offers boating courses twice a year to novices and those interested in expanding their knowledge of all things nautical.

"It's a pretty intensive course. It covers everything from what to consider when you purchase a boat to the latest GPS technology," he said. That includes weather, navigation and this Tuesday's course on boat handling, taught by flotilla member Steve Marthouse of Chambersburg.

While some flotilla members are former "Coasties," Forrester said the all-volunteer group is made up of civilians as well as former members of the military. Marsiglia said he served in the Army and Forrester said he was in the Marines.

Leon Long, one of the students, said he is taking the course to "learn more about boats, learn more about boat safety and learn about different kinds of boats." A couple in the class said they are considering buying a boat.

There is a lot more to the decision than choosing between sail or motor boats. Pennsylvania and most other states require a boating safety certificate to operate any watercraft with more than 25 horsepower, Forrester said.

Marsiglia said all states recognize the course as fulfilling the requirements for a boating certificate.

Outside the classroom, members may perform boating safety patrols, assist with search-and-rescue operations and promote safety in other ways, Marsiglia said.

"At no cost to the owner, we'll come examine your boat, see if it meets regulations and anything you need to improve the safety of your boat," Marsiglia said. A boat with a passing mark gets a decal certifying that it is up to Coast Guard standards for safety, he said.

"It decreases the likelihood of your boat being pulled over for a safety inspection" by authorities, Forrester said.

Another class will be offered later this year, according to Marsiglia. It is the first step for anyone interested in joining the auxiliary, he said.

Prospective members have to be at least 17 years old and a U.S. citizen with no felony convictions, according to Forrester.

For more information, call Marsiglia at 1-717-749-7377, or send e-mail to him at rjmars@innernet.net.

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