Over the past seven years, the United State Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 67 at Lake Hopatcong is becoming more and more visible to boaters on the lake. And that’s just fine with Public Education Officer Frank Federico.
“We want to be able to enhance boating safety here on the lake,” said Federico.
One of the missions of the USCGA is simple; recreational boating safety. And in that vein, Flotilla 67 is making strides.
Offering between 15 and 20 boating safety courses a year for the past seven years, the local chapter is also involved in vessel safety checks and safety patrols on the water.
Using multiple venues dotted around the lake, the boating safety courses attract about 20 people per class. According to Federico, one of the four Flotilla 67 certified instructors, “anyone, 16 or older, who wants to boat on New Jersey inland water in a powered vessel from 10 HP and above,” needs to take the eight-hour course. Since 2007, a boating safety certificate became mandatory in New Jersey for anyone who operates a powerboat or a personal watercraft he said. Children between the ages of 13-15 are also required to get a certificate but can only operate vessels powered by electric trolling motors or vessels 12’ or longer with less than 10 HP. Paddlers in kayaks and canoes are not required to have a certificate. New Jersey residents are required to have both the boating safety certificate as well as the boating endorsement on their driver’s license. Non-residents boating in New Jersey regularly need a boating license.
Just before the beginning of the boating season the Flotilla partners with the Lake Hopatcong Sail & Power Squadron for a Blessing of the Fleet ceremony. As part of the festivities, certified USCGA officials conduct vessel safety checks, free of charge, to boats in the water or still on trailers. These safety checks can be made anytime during the year and at any location, said Federico. “If a boat fails an inspection, there is no penalty to the owner from us. We issue a laminated checklist for the owner to keep on board. But, if the owner doesn’t comply with the checklist and gets stopped by the state police, he could be issued a summons and fined for no compliance,” he said.
Currently there are three private USCGA “qualified facilities (vessels) available for water patrol” on Lake Hopatcong, said Federico. For one of these boats to be out on patrol, the vessel has to have approved orders from the United States Coast Guard and have the proper number of crewmen (depending on boat size) aboard. Most of the patrols are done on Saturdays and Sundays, the busiest days of the week on the lake. Their task while on patrol is to look for boaters or boats who might need assistance or boaters not doing the right thing. They cannot issue a summons but they will, said Federico, write down registration numbers and report any wrong doing to the state police.
The patrols also help out with some of the larger events held on the lake. With thousands of boats migrating toward Bertand’s Island each year to see the fireworks, Federico said that the Flotilla 67 crews help boat traffic navigate safely around the lake at the end of the celebration. They are also on the lake during the Tom Wear Memorial swim, protecting the hundreds of competition swimmers in the lake in the Woodport section.
“We feel we’ve had an effect already,” said Federico, who does not own a boat but has been a member for 11 years. “We want to continue to improve boating safety on the lake. We are not here to replace the police, only to improve safety,” he added.
Flotilla 67recently conducted their annual Change of Watch. Newly elected officers were sworn in by Fred Signor Division Commander,5NR, and Doug Miller, Vice Division Commander. Richard Carlson was the newly elected Flotilla Commander and Laurence Orlans, the Vice Flotilla Commander for 2013.
Flotilla 67 (www.cgauxiliarylakehopatcong.com) is actively seeking new members. Currently there are 37 members and about a third are active. “We’re growing,” said Federico. “Our members come from a variety of backgrounds—all different professions. Whatever talent or energy you can bring to our organization we welcome you. Come to a meeting. If you want to do something pro-active for the lake, look into our organization,” he said.