Safety in the spotlight: Students benefit from annual boating safety program


Over at the Y pool on Marco, a group of third grade students giggled, splashed around and generally had a good time away from class. But at the same time, they learned how to use lifejackets, operate radios on a boat, perform basic CPR technique, and how to pull someone to safety.

A group of third-grade students learns about radio procedure.

The occasion was the annual Water Wise program conducted by the Marco Island Coast Guard Auxiliary along with the Marco Island Fire Department – and the youngsters were from Tommie Barfield Elementary.

“We look forward to this. We like working with kids and seeing it benefit them,” said Coast Guard Auxiliary member Mark Senda before the group was divided into three stations.

He was joined by fellow members Keith Wohltman (former Commander), along with Joe Riccio and Skip Lee, while firefighter paramedic Chris Bowden talked about resuscitation and lifesaving techniques in his role as the fire department’s public education coordinator.

One of the morning’s highlights for the students was donning orange lifejackets and sliding into the water to simulate exiting a sinking or burning boat.

Earlier, they had been told the importance of wearing a snugly fitting jacket, and once in the water they were taught to float with their heads supported and their knees drawn up.

One of the three rotation stations set up for the students was a boat console with a radio, and they were told that rule number one – despite sounding obvious – was to turn on the radio.

Keith Wohltman talks to students before teaching them to simulate exiting a distressed boat into the water.

Also emphasized was releasing the call button after speaking, making a distress call, and the importance of performing call checks before heading out into the water.

Student Tam Vu, like each of the others, was intrigued by all the safety tips given in such a short time, and said he would remember them.

“We learned a lot,” he said at the conclusion of the exercises.

Bowden, incidentally, completed the Water Wise program when he was a third grader in the 90s around the time it was initiated.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary also maintains the popular County lifejacket program at entrances to local beaches, and the motto is that kids don’t float, but kids in lifejackets do. The Auxiliary also provides the Marco Y with lifejackets.

For more information on the assorted programs and activities available for youth and adults at the Greater Marco Family YMCA, call 394-3144, or visit