An outside photo of Marine Specialties employees all wearing life jackets.

For the team at Marine Specialties safety is No. 1. It’s always “Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day.”

Boating safety classes are not just for new boaters. More than 25 employees at Marine Specialties recently took a certified Safe Boating Class, taught by instructors from America’s Boating Club Atlanta, formerly known as the Atlanta Sail and Power Squadron.

“Safety has to be No. 1 on the water for all boaters, including those of us who work on the water every day,” said Mark Millwood, environmental, safety & health manager for the 36-year-old company that provides dock building and shoreline solutions in Georgia and South Carolina. “From formalized instruction about the Rules of the Road to safety information about best practices for operating a boat, the day-long class has really brought boating safety back to the forefront within our team.”

Taught by America’s Boating Club Atlanta certified instructors, the course follows the curriculum approved by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The course includes the latest information about Georgia boating laws, which may change from year to year.

Millwood, who worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers for more than 10 years, joined the Marine Specialties team in 2023. He was directly responsible for sourcing and coordinating the full-day boater safety course for the team.

“During my time with the Corps of Engineers here on Lake Lanier, I’ve seen quite a number of on-the-water incidents that could have been avoided,” he said. “One of the takeaways from the course is to always be aware of other boat operators on the water and be ready to take diversionary actions to avoid an accident.

“Many of the accidents on the water result because at least one boater isn’t aware of the Rules of the Road – who has right of way, which side to pass a boat on when it’s approaching your vessel, always operating the boat in a safe manner.”

The course also emphasized the importance of having a designated lookout to keep an eye out for other vessels.

“It may sound amazing, but several years ago, our 100-foot barge was hit by a fishing boat,” said Tom Child, president and founder of Marine Specialties. “It’s hard to believe that someone wouldn’t see a 100-foot barge, but the driver of the fishing boat apparently had his focus elsewhere.”

“Never assume that you know what the other boater is going to do, has ample boating knowledge or that the driver is paying attention,” Millwood said. “The course helped teach our own boat operators to always be aware of their surroundings.”

Marine Specialties requires all its employees to wear PFDs when on the water. “They don’t leave the dock without them,” Millwood said. “It’s just good practice, even for good swimmers, because you never know when you may end up in the water.”

The company has initiated other safety procedures, including adding strobe lights on all of its boats.

“They’re on all the time when we’re on the water, day or night,” Millwood said. “We want to be really visible to other boaters, because often we’re moving a large dock or bringing in a load of rip-rap and our barges are not as maneuverable as smaller vessels.”

The course was taught in English, and a Spanish translator was available to help explain difficult concepts. The company purchased reference copies to the instructional book in both English and Spanish that are available to employees.

“With the books, our employees will have access to the book for reference about what they learned,” Millwood said. “It was well worth the investment for Marine Specialties to bring the class to our boat operators and leads.”

Millwood said that the company plans to offer the course to new employees.

“It’s just a good idea for anyone on the water to be up-to-date and aware of boating safety practices,” he said. “It’s our responsibility as a business that works on the water to always operate in a safe manner and ensure that all our boat operators are fully trained in the safe operation of their craft.”

Photo: courtesy MSI