The AustinBlu Foundation, founded after two 14-year-olds from Tequesta went missing at sea, is sponsoring free safe-boating classes in Boca Raton.
The classes will be taught once a month by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36. The first class in Boca is scheduled for Saturday.
In July, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen left Jupiter Inlet in a 19-foot boat and never returned. Lengthy searches by the Coast Guard and private pilots were unsuccessful in finding them.
The foundation has offered to cover the cost of Flotilla 36's one-day safe-boating class, which normally comes to $35 per student.
"We want people to get trained in boating safety," said Kirsten Stevens, the foundation's administrator. "That's the bottom line."
With 29 certified instructors, Flotilla 36 has been offering classes from more than two decades, said Andrea Rutherfoord, the Flotilla 36 spokeswoman.
"By giving these classes, boaters -- both brand-new and even experienced boaters -- learn information they just can't pick up by being on the water," Rutherfoord said. "This class has proven successful in providing that in a one-day format."
This is the first year Flotilla 36 is partnering with the AustinBlu Foundation. Rutherfoord said the financial assistance from the foundation will help instructors reach more boaters in the area.
"The students have it free," Rutherfoord said. "They just need to bring a lunch."
While the number of boaters in South Florida and the number of accidents have increased, Rutherfoord said, enrollment in safe-boating classes has decreased.
"We're hoping this will increase the numbers dramatically," she said. "The goal is to keep people happy and safe on the water."
Students will learn boating terminology, state and federal boating rules, navigation, equipment required by law, how to handle boating emergencies and safe operating techniques in bad weather, such as anchoring and docking.
The day will culminate in a test, and students can earn a Florida boating ID card, which is required for boaters age 28 or younger who are operating a boat with 10 or more horsepower in Florida.
Interested boaters can register up until the day of the class or until the class fills up. Pre-registration is also open for classes on April 2, May 7, June 4 or July 9.
Classes will be from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Spanish River Park Headquarter building, located at 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., on A1A at Spanish River Blvd. There is no age requirement, though Rutherfoord recommends children under 11 attend as observers only.
"We've had students all the way up to 80 take this class," Rutherfoord said. "Any age is at risk if they go out on the water unprepared."
For more information on the class or to register for a date, call Flotilla 36 at 561-391-3600 and leave a call-back number, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the AustinBlu Foundation can be found at austinblufoundation.org.
Boating safety classes are also being offered monthly through August at the River Center, located inside Burt Reynolds Park at 805 N US Highway 1 in Jupiter. For more information on those classes, call the River Center at 561-743-7123.