Smart boaters who have taken a boating safety course, either through the Power Squadron or the Coast Guard Auxiliary, will have learned what they should and should not do on the water. Really smart boaters will read Chief Tom Rau’s excellent book. From it, they will not only learn the what, but the why — why people on the water should always wear a life jacket; how to properly make a radio distress call; the value of a float plan; the hazards of drinking and boating; how anyone using a boat for any purpose (fishing, hunting) can get into trouble; what not to do with your GPS; and did I mention life jackets?

Since 1986, Chief Rau has been writing the “Boat Smart” column for dozens of media outlets around Lake Michigan and in the Midwest. He knows what he’s talking about. Citing examples from his 27-year career as a Coast Guard rescue responder, he describes hundreds of stories of boats in trouble and the rescues that took place. Some of these stories have happy endings. Many do not. The lessons given in these stories are far more vivid than a dry classroom lecture.

Any book concerned with safety is liable to be dreary and preachy — Chief Rau’s writing style manages to avoid this pitfall. He describes the casualties — and the rescues — with the kind of detail that puts the reader out on the rescue boat or in the helicopter. Every story has a point, clearly illustrating the safe way to enjoy the water, and what can happen if the boater is ignorant, or just a little careless. There is also a little bit of humor, such as the story of the man who fell overboard naked and had to swim to a crowded and decidedly non-nudist beach…

I am an instructor in boating safety. Material from Chief Rau’s book is going to be used in our classes. Thanks, Chief!

Boat Smart: Lake Michigan Devours Its Wounded by Tom Rau, Senior Chief, USCG (retired) (Seaworthy Publications, 2006; 246 pages)