CRESTVIEW — Teaching teenagers to appreciate the outdoors may help them cultivate constructive hobbies and stay out of trouble, Capt. Daniel Pike, TV's "Inshore Angler," said Tuesday.
"A rod in your hand— unless you're hunting — is better than a gun," he said to Ernie Martin's outdoor education class at Crestview High School.
And knowing how to fish and boat properly take focus in Martin's classroom.
The state requires boaters — particularly those operating 10-plus horsepower vessels — to carry a boater education identification card after completing a certified boating safety course.
Over the years, more than 500 CHS outdoor education students reportedly have received boat safety certification as part of the course.
Wilbur Hugli, a United States Power Squadrons officer, assists with student certification through the nonprofit organization that aims to make boating safer. The course teaches boating laws and regulations, the use of safety equipment and navigation techniques. Students also learn what to do when a boat capsizes, a passenger goes overboard or how to handle emergency radio calls.
"Out of all of those kids, if only one life was saved, it would have been worth it," Martin said of the class.
Having safety knowledge particularly is beneficial in the Sunshine State, which has the most boating fatalities in the country, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Seven people per 100,000 registered vessels died here in boating incidents in 2011, the latest year for available data.
Alcohol use and equipment failure are among the top causes of boating accidents, the commission reports. Other factors include inclement weather and carelessness.
More schools should feature outdoor education so kids can know the facts, said Pike, owner of a Destin-based guided-fishing tour company.
That hope would grow increasingly likely if other schools' students share as much interest in the program as Crestview High has.
Martin, who also assists the football team and is the track team's head coach, said his class has grown since it began 12 years ago.
"We had to turn away 150 (students) this year," he said, adding he hopes to get those students into future classes.
Logan Weeks, 15, said he enjoys the course because it can help prepare him for a hopeful career with the United States Coast Guard.
During the visit, Pike — who has appeared on NBC Sports television programming and the Outdoor Channel — switched topics in hopes of motivating the students.
"Being a person is easy; there is nothing to it," he said. "But to wake up and be a great person and a great role model is a lot of hard work."
"America needs to change how they think about heroes," Pike said.
Although professional athletes can be role models, they shouldn't be considered heroes, he said.
Reserve that honor for wounded soldiers, he said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.