HomeTable of ContentsSection 1Section 2Section 3Section 4Educational Outreach to School Age ChildrenEducational Outreach to the General PublicAccidents Involving Personal WatercraftPublic Information Education through PamphletsAbanoned Watercraft Removal ProgramSection 5Section 6GlossaryContact DBWDBW HomeDownload PDFs

Section 4

Boating Safety Education Programs

The Safety and Education Units have two primary objectives to support the California Division of Boating and Waterways’ mission:

  • To provide accessible boating safety education for youths and adults
  • To educate and protect youth operators by developing and distributing boating and aquatic safety material to California schools.

The Department relies on partnerships with several organizations (educational institutions, aquatic centers, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadrons) to provide boating safety education. The Department provides educational institutions with free course materials on boating and aquatic safety information. Aquatic centers that offer on-the-water safety education are eligible for Department grants and scholarships. Last year, these partnerships provided 693,000 individuals with boating safety education.

A. Educational Outreach to School-Age Children

The Department developed the AquaSMART curriculum to educate school-age children about water safety. The course is a three-part series for K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 grades. Course materials cover a variety of topics involving boating and aquatic safety. Nearly 500,000 elementary school students benefit from the AquaSMART education programs annually.

The Department also disseminates the AquaSMART Boating program for high school students. Key safety concerns identified by accident statistics are incorporated into the curriculum. Four types of boating are addressed: personal watercraft, powerboating, sailing, and paddling. The course is available to schools, aquatic centers, and youth organizations.

Poster Contest
Public and private school children in the K-8 grade levels are invited every year to participate in the Department’s Safe & Wise Water Ways poster calendar contest. It is the Department’s philosophy that safety lessons learned and practiced at an early age serve to protect individuals throughout their lifetime. A poster contest designed to promote boating and aquatic safety among children is a good way to convey such lessons.

A contest advertisement is sent directly to all California elementary and middle schools. Entry information is also posted on our Department web site, www.BoatSmarter.com, and promoted by local radio and/or television stations. Nine statewide winning entries are chosen (one for each grade level) and featured on an annual poster calendar produced and distributed by the Department.

Corporate sponsors contribute to the success of this program by providing awards for the winners. In 2004, sponsors included Kawasaki, Northern California Marine Association, Radio Disney, Southern California Marine Association and Yamaha. Prizes are distributed when Department representatives and our boating safety puppet show—AquaSMART Live!—personally congratulates the poster contest winners. AquaSMART Live! is a professionally produced multimedia program designed to teach students how to stay safe in and around California waterways. Splasher the Frog hosts the show. Besides congratulating the winner and the school, he shows them what can happen if we fail to practice safety in and around the water by using the AquaSMART Stunt Dummies.

The uniqueness of this program is that it allows different State organizations to work together as a group to reach one goal—boating and water safety. The State provides the information to schools, the teachers become the program directors, and children have the opportunity to become teachers.

The award-winning poster contest is now in its 12th year and most recently won the 2003 National Safe Boating Council’s Boating Education Advancement Award. Lastly, although this program is not mandatory, many teachers find it important enough to incorporate it into their already demanding curriculum requirements.

Interactive Tools
The Department uses SeaMore and Sea Lily, two interactive robotic boats, to communicate boating and water safety information to children and adults at safety fairs, schools, or boating events. These boats are available on loan to boating safety organizations and marine law enforcement agencies

B. Educational Outreach to the General Public

Aquatic Center Grant Program
The Department provides grant monies to aquatic centers throughout the state to enhance their programs. Grants can be used either for scholarships or for the purchase of equipment to be used in boating and education classes. This grant program allows the Department to increase the number of boaters who receive hands-on boating safety training.

Aquatic centers, operated by universities, cities, counties, and nonprofit organizations, provide on-the-water boating safety education in kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, power boating, sailing, windsurfing, and personal watercraft operation. These programs target university students, the general public, persons with disabilities, and disadvantaged youths.

During the 2003/04 fiscal year, the Department allocated $620,000 in grants to 36 aquatic centers, which then provided nearly 113,000 individuals with hands-on aquatic and boating education.

Home Study Course
California Boating: A Course for Safe Boating is a free correspondence course. This course is designed for home study, allowing students to progress at their own pace. This comprehensive course covers State and federal boating law, rules of the road, boat handling, required and recommended equipment, navigational aids, and other topics. The course contains an optional exam to be completed on a Scantron form and mailed to the Department for grading. Those who pass the course with a score of 80% or better are awarded with certificates that are recognized by many insurance companies for boat insurance discounts. In 2004, about 35,000 copies of California Boating were distributed to the general public. There were 2,232 exams completed and mailed to the Department in 2004 with a passing rate of 96%.

Many boating organizations, marine dealers, and aquatic centers use the California Boating course with their audiences as an introduction to safety for new boaters. Marine law enforcement units also like to hand them out waterside during their patrols and at community service events.

National Safe Boating Week
Each year, the President and the Governor proclaim the week before Memorial Day as National Safe Boating Week. The Department organizes a number of boating safety events during this week designed not only to promote safe boating, but also to promote the sport of boating. Activities featured during this week include:

  • Highlights of annual boating accident statistics
  • News releases featuring boating safety tips
  • Interviews with the media
  • Life jacket trade-ins

Tri-State Boating Safety Fair
In 2004, the Division of Boating and Waterways hosted a media day and safety event in partnership with the Arizona State Parks, Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Nevada Department of Wildlife. This event was named the “Tri-State Boating Safety Fair” at Lake Havasu (a multi-jurisdictional body of water). The purpose of the event was to kick-off the boating season on the Colorado River and to raise awareness among area boaters of what the Tri-State region (specifically Arizona, California and Nevada) is doing to improve boating safety throughout the Colorado River region. All communication efforts for the day focused on the dangers of negligent operation and excessive speed, alcohol abuse while boating, carbon monoxide poisoning and the importance of wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).

Representatives from the National Safe Boating Council, the United States Coast Guard, the Power Squadrons, local law enforcement agencies and various media outlets – KFLG-FM, KLUK-FM and KNKK-FM were on hand to help promote the Safety Fair. Six different radio outlets aired 35 promotional announcements and 23 recorded as well as live call-ins the day of the event. Boating Law Administrators from California and Arizona along with department educational and safety experts conducted on-air interviews with radio personalities. A news story, recorded with the Arizona public relations department, ran on six Mojave stations prior to the event. Lastly, a print ad was placed in the April edition of the On the Water magazine and News-Herald highlighting the Tri-State Fair.

Boating safety bags were handed out at the front gate of the event. Items included educational material from the three states. A Tri-State brochure, listing some of the common boating laws from the three states, was produced to enhance the efforts of the Tri-State boating educational campaign.

Boat Shows
California state law does not require boaters to be licensed, nor does it require them to take a boating safety course. As a consequence, a significant number of accidents and deaths occur. This is why boat shows are so critical.

Boat shows provide an excellent arena in which the Department and law enforcement officials can reduce accident and fatality numbers by educating the public on boating and water safety by handing out pamphlets, sponsoring boating safety puppet shows, giving out promotional items with inscribed boating safety messages, or simply
answering questions.

Boat shows give boaters the chance to talk to representatives of local law enforcement agencies, boating associations, and the Department. These agencies work together to provide safer recreational waterways. In 2004, the Department reached over
20,000 boaters.

Spanish Outreach
In order to better serve California’s growing Spanish-speaking population, the Department continues to distribute Spanish-language boating and water safety resources. Boaters can order copies of Spanish translations of selected Department publications, or view and download them on Boating and Waterways’ new Spanish Website, at www.dbw.ca.gov/Espanol.

In addition, the Department also has a free Spanish-language curriculum material which meets California curriculum standards for the K-2 and 3-5 grade levels. Available to any school, the curriculum contains a teacher’s guide, reproducible activity sheets and a video.

Safety Campaign to Boaters
California’s Multimedia Boating Safety Awareness Campaign
Boaters across the state are exposed to safety messages as part of the boating environment on outdoor signs such as, billboards, posters, and marina trash receptacles, as well as over the airwaves. In fact, the outdoor billboard and radio campaigns have been used to educate California boaters since 1998.

Because many boaters do not perceive themselves as failing to practice boating safety, the Campaign calls attention to defensive boat operation. Just as road signs on the highways caution drivers to watch out for hazards on the roads, similar signs for the waterways are posted to caution boaters and raise awareness for safer practices when boating. This is the Department’s Road Signs for the Waterways Campaign. Many of the signs use humor to convey a safety message in an entertaining manner. Overall, the campaign impacts 2 million boaters each year.

Reinforcement came during the summer holiday weekends: Memorial, Independence, and Labor Days on mobile billboards decorated with the Road Signs for the Waterways. The traveling billboards placed at marinas and park entrances throughout California, remind boaters of safety on the waterways.

The Campaign’s multi-media approach ensures that safety messages reach boaters at the critical moment, just before, and as, they hit the water.

Boating Safety Awareness Radio Campaign
In conjunction with the outdoor component of the media campaign, DBW maintains a statewide radio campaign highlighting the following safety tips:

  • The importance of wearing a life jacket.
  • The dangers of mixing alcohol and boating.
  • River Safety
  • Environmental Stewardship – Keep it Clean when you boat
  • Overall “common sense” boating messages for general boating safety preparedness.
  • Responsible operation with an emphasis on “defensive driving”.
  • Take a boating safety course.

In 2004, the Department added two new boating safety messages to its wide breadth of messages aired up and down California. First of the new radio spots, entitled, Bev Lite, accentuated the possible consequences of drinking alcohol while boating. The listener is drawn into the circumstances being played-out, as a boater becomes intoxicated in the radio spot. Next, DBW turned its attention to the growing statistic of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning injuries and deaths related to boating. In the CO Kills radio spot, the listener learned of the potential for CO poisoning and ways to prevent being succumbed by the deadly fumes.

The Multi-Media Campaign runs year-round in Southern California and from May through October statewide, targeting California’s top ten boating accident waterways. Approximately 42 radio stations across the State air safety messages reminding boaters to Boat Smart and to visit our website at BoatSmarter.com.

Televised Message Campaign
In 2004, KCRA/KQCA, the NBC affiliate in Sacramento, partnered with the Department to air a 30-second public service announcement for television promoting safe boating and taking a boating safety course in its viewing area in Northern California.

Special Programs
DBW’s Safety Team
During the 2004 boating season, the Campaign’s Safety Team continued its outreach from Memorial Day to Labor Day with the Safe Boating is BIG FUN recreational vehicle making appearances at more than 40 marinas and launching ramps statewide.
Boating information was distributed along with prizes for playing the Safety Trivia Quiz at all of the Safety Team’s events. The Team also went to additional locations in 2004 to reach even more boaters and water sport enthusiasts and created a new website www.safeboatingisbigfun.com to promote its appearances and the prize giveaways.

All the radio stations participating in DBW’s Safety Campaign run promotional announcements promoting the Safety Team’s appearances at local waterways. Stations also promote these appearances and the Division of Boating and Waterways on their stations’ websites. Each station then brings their promotional set-up—a station vehicle, tent promotional items and on occasion remote broadcast from the event. Life jackets and free DBW branded educational items are also distributed in fun ways like spinning the prize wheel and having people answer trivia questions.

National Safe Boating Week
For National Safe Boating Week, 30 second vignettes reminded boaters and the public about boating safe and smart just in time for the Memorial Day holiday. A total of 215 vignettes aired in the top vessel-accidents areas of California. In conjunction, Community Service Programs on 10 radio stations, ran either a half hour or full hour program dedicated to speaking about accident statistics, boating and alcohol, and carbon monoxide poisoning prevention.

Special Awards
The National Association of Government Communicators recognized the Department’s safe speed Roadsign – Slow, Slow, Slow your boat.

C. Public Information Education through Pamphlets
In 2004, the Department distributed 1.2 million copies of boating safety literature to the public. The Department’s Public Information Unit publishes and distributes more than 50 different boating safety publications. The publications cover a variety of topics emphasizing boating safety on California waterways and are also available on the department’s websites, www.dbw.ca.gov or www.BoatSmarter.com.

Materials focus on subjects such as key safety issues for individual waterways, required equipment, and operational laws. The unit mails these publications directly to individuals and provides various organizations with materials for distribution. Department representatives also attend numerous safety fairs and boat shows, distributing literature and answering questions. Currently, the Department of Motor Vehicles mails the Division of Boating and Waterways’ safety brochures with each new vessel registration and each renewal.

D. Abandoned Watercraft Removal Program

The Department administers the Abandoned Watercraft Removal Fund Program for the removal of abandoned watercraft and substantial navigational hazards from California’s waterways. These funds are made available to the local public agencies for the removal, storage, and disposal of navigational hazards. For fiscal year 2003/2004, a total of $413,770.00 was allocated to local agencies. The following chart depicts the funds granted to the local public agencies for 2004:

Agency Name
# of Hazards
City of Long Beach
Moss Landing
Richardson Bay Regional
San Mateo County Harbor
City of Santa Barbra
City of Vallejo
Ventura County / Channel
Island Harbor
Ventura Port District


Division of Boating and Water Ways | 2004 California Boating Safety Report