Warwick Harbormasters give career & tech students boat safety primer


Warwick’s Harbormasters Matthew Prendergast and Steven Brown visited the Warwick Career and Technical Center branch at Warwick Veterans High School last week to prepare 22 students in the Marine Trade Program for an exam they took Friday.

They visited students each day from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to share their knowledge on boat handling, how to deal with maritime accidents, what to do if a person goes overboard, how to approach another vessel, how to dock a vessel, the importance of clear communication between boaters or people in the water, and more. The lesson is part of the curriculum.

In order to legally operate a vessel of 10 horse power or greater, or a personal water craft, students are required to take and pass the course and test by 70 percent to receive their Boating Safety Card, which indicates they’ve had the education to operate a vessel. It’s not a license, but an indication that they’ve had the trainings, and is issued by Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

Chris Bianco, instructor of the Marine Trades Program, is thankful to have such qualified harbormasters visit his students.

“It’s important that these guys get recognized because they are taking the time to help my students,” Bianco said, noting that they both volunteered their time to help students. To be clear, they provided the service through the Rhode Island Harbormaster Association on a volunteer basis. That means the course books and exams were also given to students at no cost.

But Prendergast and Brown enjoyed the experience, and were equally grateful to be there. As the city’s harbormasters, they’re responsible for enforcing the laws of the water, and visiting students allows them to do something a little different.

“This gives us the opportunity to provide education so that people are doing what they are supposed to be doing,” said Prendergast. He has operated boats since 1976, and works on one of the high-speed ferries that runs from Quonset to Martha’s Vineyard. Brown is a former Coast Guard crewman, so he has a lot of experience with maritime boating laws.

The students said they were grateful for the visit. Vets senior Ian Barnes, 18, said he found it interesting to learn about the safety procedures to take when operating a boat, while Pilgrim senior Nakia Mederios, 17, thought it was key to learn about carbon monoxide symptoms, which include nausea, dizziness and weakness.

Vets senior James House, 18, who enlisted in the U.S. Army, said learning about HELP, a procedure to use if you become stranded in the water, was interesting. HELP is an acronym for heat escape lessening position.

“You basically curl up into a ball to keep the heat trapped inside, instead of exposing it,” he said.

After graduation, he hopes he’ll be able to use the knowledge from the course in the Army.

Similarly, Brown said his daughter Molly, 17, a junior at Vets, is also taking the course, and is thinking about going into the Coast Guard.

“She’ll be following the tradition,” he said with pride.

Prendergast added that the course is vital for all students if they plan to operate a boat, whether they plan to pursue a career in the filed or not.

“Working with youngsters at this age level provides us the opportunity to give them an education and training prior to them getting on the water and having a possible situation,” he said.


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