Vessel Safety a Priority for Toro Park’s Bill Dodson

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catamaran owner Bill Dodson is a firm believer in boating safety, and he does more than just talk about it. As the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla Commander of District 11 Northern Region, Division 6, Flotilla 4, Dodson conducts vessel safety checks to make sure local boaters’ equipment is up to par.

Article by Robert Walch. Reprinted with permission from Off 68.

Bill Dodson, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla commander of District 11 Northern Region, Division 6, Flotilla 4. ROBERT WALCH/FOR OFF 68


Dodson is so passionate about vessel safety that last year he conducted 759 vessel safety checks. His enthusiasm and this remarkable number of inspections resulted in the Toro Park, CA resident being honored with the first-place award for recreational vessel safety checks for three states (California, Nevada and Utah). The average number of inspections for an auxiliary member is fewer than 30.

The time frame was roughly June 1 to Aug. 1, 2011. During that period Dodson spent nearly every weekend at either Lake San Antonio or Lake Nacimiento conducting inspections.

On average he would inspect about 50 to 60 boats, but there were times when he hit the century mark. A vessel safety check is conducted either in the water or with the boat on its trailer. Usually the inspection takes 10 minutes or less, and if the boat passes, the owner is given a vessel safety check sticker to display on the boat.

Some of the 15 items on Dodson’s checklist include display numbers on the boat, registration/documentation material, personal flotation devices, a fire extinguisher, navigation lights and visual distress signaling devices.

Dodson said a personal flotation device (a life vest or a life preserver, for instance) is very important, because about 45 percent of all drownings occur within six feet of a dock or boat. That’s why wearing a life jacket is so important when one is out on the water.

It wasn’t until he purchased the Kiwi Cat, a 50-foot catamaran built in New Zealand and used as a camera boat during the America’s Cup Series, that Dodson decided to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

He said he wanted to learn how to safely handle his large boat and be safe in various nautical environments.

“With a boat this big came big responsibilities,” he explained. “I joined the Auxiliary in 2005 and took all the classes they offered. It took me over two years to do it.”

For the past two years, Dodson has been commander of the 40-member Monterey Coast Guard Auxiliary. Among the important roles of the Auxiliary is conducting the vessel safety checks — for both fresh-water and ocean boats.

Dodson said the Coast Guard does not do vessel safety checks. This task is solely in the hands of the all-volunteer Auxiliary. The Auxiliary provides all of the boating safety and education classes in the county as well.

When Dodson became certified to conduct vessel safety checks two years ago, it was like a duck taking to water. His first full year as a safety examiner, he pushed hard to inspect as many boats as possible.

As to why a boat owner should have a vessel safety check, Dodson said the first concern should obviously be safety. But another good reason is that in Monterey County, local law enforcement agencies (California Fish & Game, the county Parks and Recreation Department, and the Sheriff’s Office) go out on the water and issue citations to scofflaw boaters at lakes San Antonio and Nacimiento.

“If they see a 2012 vessel safety check sticker issued by us on the boat, which indicates it has already passed inspection, they’ll pass by,” Dodson said of law enforcement officers. “But if they don’t, they could very well do an on-the-water safety check. And receiving a citation can be costly. For example, not having a life vest or a fire extinguisher can run $250 for each offense.”

The Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel safety check is free, Dodson said, and he personally is willing to go the extra mile and visit a person’s home and inspect the boat while it is parked on a trailer in the driveway. If the boat doesn’t pass inspection, he is willing to do it again when the individual has taken care of the problem.

During National Safe Boating Week, set for May 19 to 26, the Coast Guard plans to host weekend activities at San Carlos Beach Park, which is in the general vicinity of the Coast Guard Pier and Breakwater in Monterey.

“We’ll have various activities for families, informational booths on water and boating safety, and, of course, I and other Auxiliary members will be conducting vessel safety checks,” Dodson said.

Not a man to rest on his laurels, Dodson says his goal for 2012 is to do 1,000 vessel safety checks. Few if any of his auxiliary colleagues would bet against him reaching the mark, given how close he came last year.

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  1. Paul says:

    Mark, fantastic article and Bill,well nothing but Bravo Zulu will do for you. Thank you for your dedication to the USCG Auxiliary

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