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Coast Guard volunteers offer help to ensure boaters stay safe

| Monday, May 20, 2013, 12:20 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Dan Beahm (left) and Ralph Unglo, with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, conduct a vessel safety check on Dave DeGerome's boat on the Allegheny River at the Fox Chapel Marina Sunday, May 19, 2013.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Dan Beahm (left) and Ralph Unglo, with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, conduct vessel safety checks on recreational watercraft on the Allegheny River at the Fox Chapel Marina Sunday, May 19, 2013.

Dave DeGerome just bought a Baja speedboat last week. At 20 feet long and a top speed of 64 mph, it has the power and agility he wants for a summer of cruising the rivers with his adult children skiing in tow.

Sunday – with the help of volunteers from the Coast Guard — he learned he still had a couple of boxes to check off before he gets the boat out on the water: Cover the battery and mount the fire extinguishers.

DeGerome, 58, of Hampton looks for this kind of advice every year to catch any safety tips that escaped him, he said. He was one of about a dozen boaters docked Sunday at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club to invite the Coast Guard on board for a voluntary look to start National Safe Boating Week.

“I love to keep my boats pristine and in good condition,” DeGerome said. “This keeps me on my toes.”

Coast Guard volunteers are offering their help all over the region, with upcoming inspections Downtown and on the North Shore next month, and at Washington's Landing in July, said Dan Beahm, a volunteer based out of the guard station in Sewickley. They're purely voluntary, designed to help boaters learn safety regulations and get them a sticker to show authorities that everything is in order.

Vessel examiners like him guide boat owners through a checklist to ensure lights and horns are working, flares, flags and life jackets are accessible, and the boat license numbers are accurately displayed. The most common problems include lights malfunctioning after a winter dock and life jackets still wrapped in plastic containers, said Coast Guard Auxiliary Division VII Vice Cmdr. Norman C. Arbes. A boat displaying an incorrect registration number can get a hefty fine or even seized if authorities spot it on the water, said Ralph “RR” Unglo, an auxiliary member who conducted Sunday's inspections with Beahm.

“Little things like that that people don't think of, it can be a big mess,” said Unglo, 36, a fitness and self-defense instructor from Fox Chapel. “The main goal is keeping everyone safe.”

Karin Legato invited Coast Guard examiners on board for the first time when she saw Unglo and Beahm, 42, of Penn Hills passing through, she said. To get her boat Carina in line, she had to climb on the roof of the double-decker to change the white light at the top, breaking two nails in the process, which she joked about with Unglo.

“All boaters should take a safety course and get their boat inspected,” said Legato, a Downtown resident who declined to give her age. “That would keep the rivers safe for everyone. There's a lot of novice people out there.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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