BoatUS Foundation is expanding its hands-on training

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In a positive move that can benefit dealers and their customers, the BoatUS Foundation is again taking a lead role for boating safety. The group is calling for Coast Guard-licensed captains who are interested in teaching new or experienced boaters on-water powerboat handling and navigation skills. The pay ranges from $250 to $350 a day.

The foundation is funding this major expansion of on-water courses. The program has proven its value, as more than 600 students have taken BoatUS Foundation courses at more than a dozen locations in Florida, Southern California, New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Gulf Coast. More course dates at more locations, including the Midwest, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest, will be added for 2019.

Although designers and manufacturers are advancing technologies that make boats easier to handle, I’ve found many boaters still believe they are less than proficient at boat handling, especially docking, and aren’t comfortable maneuvering in close quarters.

I’m fortunate to spend a lot of time on my boat at Suntex Marina in St. Petersburg, Fla. And there’s hardly a day that I don’t witness fellow boaters having trouble docking, especially stern-to. Each time I think, If only someone would spend a couple of hours giving them hands-on training, they’d be less embarrassed and far happier boat owners.

Perhaps it really hit home when I worked the Discover Boating Centers that featured HOST (Hands on Skill Training) sessions conducted by Capt. Tom Knighten at some of the major boat shows. He employed licensed captains and trained hundreds of people over the years, so this type of training has proven its appeal and worth.

Moreover, talking to women while their husbands were out training on a HOST boat gave me another view. Many told me their husbands weren’t good at handling their boat, so they didn’t use the boat nearly enough. These women were convinced that getting some hands-on training could make a difference.

The BoatUS Foundation plan is to offer skills courses at locations around the country. The training is taught in groups of three or four students aboard single- and twin-engine powerboats from 21 to 26 feet. The equipment will be provided by local partners, including dealers, marinas and select Freedom Boat Club locations. The curriculum — approved by the National Safe Boating Council and Freedom Boat Club — will guide the instructors teaching the three-hour courses.

The most common lesson offered is basic “Powerboat I” or “Intro to Boating,” which teaches such skills as steering straight at idle speed, centering the wheel, shifting gears and throttle control, stopping and holding station, performing the “boater's eye” technique, and more. A “Powerboat II” course will cover docking and departing, pivot turns and maintaining a proper lookout, among other topics. Some classes may be themed to women-only or parents with teenagers.

Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, has often said if we want people to discover what boating is truly like, we must make sure they have a good experience. He’s right on! Being able to operate the boat with confidence is key to unlocking those experiences.

When a dealer delivers a boat, especially to a first-timer, it’s often the salesperson who shows the buyer the operating systems and takes him or her for the delivery ride. But that can fall short of teaching the new skipper how to operate confidently.

Gruhn agrees that if we could do a better job of engaging in that experience, we’d have a greater opportunity to keep them boating and buying their next boat. “But that’s easier said than done,” he says. “Many of our retailers are faced with staffing challenges, and our ability to deliver on that experience is hampered by the fact that we don’t have enough people to do it all in a significant way. Still, that doesn’t change the need to impact their experience when possible.”

The expansion of the BoatUS Foundation’s on-water training comes at an opportune time. Dealers seeing the benefits should make known their interest in the program.

Coast Guard-licensed captains who are interested in learning more can complete a short survey here. To see a list of course dates and locations, visit the BoatUS on-water training page