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Hands-On Skills Training attracts thousands

It’s called Discover Boating’s Hands-On Skills Training (HOST). It has completed its fifth year and it’s been very successful when measured by the number of boaters — and wannabe boaters — that have participated. The total number is a whopping 6,665 participants at boat shows and dealerships comprised of 4,074 for powerboating classes and 2,591 for sailing.

For several years, my time manning the Discover Boating Center has allowed me to work alongside the HOST creator and program director Capt. Tom Knighten at the Miami and Tampa boat shows. What I witnessed is a lot of boaters are drawn to hands-on skills training opportunities and are happy to pay for it. Moreover, it’s a concept and model that is adaptable in dealerships.

The HOST program offers a variety of training in both power and sail. In 2016 alone, some 915 boaters participated in a powerboat session while another 499 got training aboard sailboats for an overall total of 1,414 at boat shows. In addition, last year there were another 157 students at HOST programs conducted at dealerships. Moreover, of the totals, 61 percent were boat owners and 39 percent were people planning to buy a first boat.

“Nothing beats hands-on experience when it comes to improving boating skills and learning new ones,” Knighten said. “All our sessions are taught by USCG-licensed captains who are professional certified instructors. And participation is limited to four people per boat so everyone gets quality time at the helm.” So exactly what are the HOST sessions like?

One-hour and three-hour sessions are normally offered. Participants choose from three classes: (1) “Close Quarters Boat Control” teaches maneuvering close to piers, docks, tight spaces and the all-important skills used in docking; (2) “Open Water Boat Handling” focuses on helmsmanship in varying conditions ranging from handling large waves and crossing wakes to recognizing navigational aids and properly trimming the boat; and (3) “Anchoring/Multi-Vessel Rafting Techniques” concentrates on selecting a spot, properly setting an anchor, dealing with changes in wind and swells, among other techniques. $25 is the usual charge.

The three-hour classes are much more in-depth with plenty of time at the helm. Those usually offered are: (1) “Docking Skills with a Single Engine, including docking bow first, stern first, backing down narrow channels, managing momentum and side slide and much more; (2) “Advanced Docking & Precision Boat Handling” with twin power including using the wind effectively, employing the three inputs of steering, shifter and throttle, using the weathervane turn and more; and (3) “Powerboating Made Easy” which is a comprehensive experience including close-quarter handling, open-water navigation, traffic recognition, rules of the road, docking and more. The fee for these is normally $99.

On the sailing side, all HOST classes are three-hour learning events that take place underway to develop specific skills. Students get plenty of time at the wheel. Like the power boating sessions, these are taught by USCG-licensed captains and certified instructors.

Classes normally offered at sailboat shows, like the recent Strictly Sail Miami, include: (1) “Essential Charter Skills: Catamarans” (mainly for those preparing for their first charter) that covers topics ranging from maneuvering under power and rigging a mooring ball bridle to techniques for entering and departing congested anchorages and proper crew communications; (2) “Intermediate Sailing Skills” teaching boat control skills that are foundational for competence and safety including things like: getting underway, heaving to, reefing, adjusting sails, balancing the helm, steering with the sails and even crew overboard recovery.

Also offered in the sailing HOST classes are: (3) “Introduction to Cruising Catamarans” which lets participants experience hands-on the comfort, speed and precise maneuverability of the modern cruising cat and learn the unique sailing and handling needs of larger cats. This session is ideal for newcomers and monohull sailors with little to no experience on multihulls; (4) “Learn to Sail,” as the name implies, is a discovery class introducing the fun of sailing while gaining some working knowledge of skills needed from raising and trimming sails to tacking, jibing, steering, slowing the boat and more.

Finally, “Performance Sailing” is a popular HOST session in which participants practice getting maximum performance (speed) while maintaining proper control and minimizing stress on the vessel’s rigging, including optimizing sail shape, managing sail draft and twist, balancing the helm, determining the most efficient heel angle, among others.

At the Miami shows last month, the HOST programs were presented by BoatUS while boats were provided by Carefree Boat Club (power) and Florida Yacht Group (sail). Virtually all sessions were sold out.

For information about the HOST program, dealers can contact Tom Knighten at taknighten@comcast.com and/or review this attached PowerPoint presentation on HOST for business stakeholders.

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