A New Kind of School

Lead Line — July 2003
By Richard Thiel

A New Kind of School
We need an organization offering continuing education to serious boaters.
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Here we are in the middle of the boating season, and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that there are a lot of people out there who could use some boating education. I’m not sure what to blame for the apparent epidemic of ignorance these days. Maybe there has always been a certain percentage of such people and they’ve just become more noticeable because there are so many more boats.

Or maybe it’s because there are a lot of new boaters out there buying large boats. Contributing editor Kim Kavin stopped by the other day and related a story about a couple she met on the train on the way into our office. In their mid-40s, they’d just purchased a 50-foot Sea Ray Sundancer—their first boat—on which they planned to seasonally commute between their homes in the Northeast and the Caribbean. It sounded like a great plan, except for their lack of experience. To their credit, they did intend to hire a captain for their maiden voyage.

For whatever reason, a lot of people realize that they need some instruction and are actively searching for it, but don’t know where to find it. The current trend toward mandatory licensing is only feeding this desire. The Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron both offer classes in boating and seamanship, some on advanced topics like electronic navigation. At the other end of the spectrum are the various captain’s licenses offered by the Coast Guard and classes for them operated by independent contractors. For many people the former is too basic and the latter too commercially oriented. They’re looking for something aimed right at the serious recreational boater.

To fulfill that need, maybe we need a new organization whose goal is to offer continuing education to serious recreational boaters. Maybe we need something like Britain’s Royal Yachting Association (RYA). It’s a nongovernmental, dues-supported organization that offers a variety of ratings and oversees a testing program to achieve them but leaves the actual instruction to privately operated schools, to which boaters pay tuition.

The big difference between the RYA and U.S. agencies is its scope. RYA really offers something for every kind of recreational boater, on topics ranging from sailcruising to windsurfing to inland waterways. On the powerboat side it has the RYA National Powerboat Scheme, which offers two courses that roughly correspond to our Coast Guard Auxiliary and Power Squadron basic boating courses; completing one leads to an RYA National Powerboat Certificate. There is also an advanced course that lasts two days and includes night navigation.

Beyond these are the RYA’s Motorcruising Courses, of which there are 12. The two-day Helmsman Practical Course is, according to the RYA’s Web site, “ideal for the new owner who is conscious of the difficulty and potential hazards of boat handling in the marina.” At the other end of the spectrum are a series of courses and exams leading to the Association’s highest rating, RYA Yachtmaster. Designed for long-distance voyagers, this 40-hour course is comprehensive, to say the least, and leads to the RYA Offshore Motor Cruising Practical Examination, which takes eight to ten hours to complete.

Could a version of the RYA work here? Lord knows, a little more knowledge would make the waterways a lot safer and more pleasant for all of us.

This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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