Third Period: History Lesson
Day two started with us touring the engine compartments of two more vessels, a 40 and 42 with twins.
“Where are the Racors?” Day sniffed in Londonese. “The seacocks? Manual fuel cutoff?”
It was another empowering day. I was now comfortable, with so much boating knowledge. But I was still struggling with docking. I lacked the confidence to back in alone. I lay awake all night doing it in my head, But I still couldn’t make it work on the water the next day.
I set it up. I began to back and got a break — no big gust. I was just about to clear the bow of the adjacent boat and ... almost … lined … up to start backing her in. Emily prepared the lines, standing ready. Bam! A big gust pushed the stern to port. Capt. Day quietly called the shots. Everyone in the marina was watching — including the owner of the cruiser alongside. Then I had my epiphany. I got it! I started shifting and throttling before Day called for it. I greased her in. Emily made fast the lines.
The cruiser owner high-fived us and passersby flashed thumbs up. But we were soon brought back to earth. Tonight was our last night on the boat, and Day had left us a pile of homework to prepare for our finals tomorrow, including chart work.
“This is where we are going tomorrow,” said Day, jotting down latitude and longitude coordinates. “Plot a course to get us there.”
I’m doomed. I can’t even turn on the GPS in our boat.
Fourth Period: The Final Exam
At 5 a.m. we woke under a blanket of books and paper charts. I had dreamed charting problems all night, but we still hadn’t plotted our course. The temperature had dropped into the 40s and, oh joy, the wind was still up.
We had a destination, but only Emily had the confidence to work out the course on the charts. Capt. Day arrived and reviewed our work with approval. We prepared to depart. I took the role of captain again.
“Emily, at your leisure, please cast off the starboard line,” I commanded. She handled the lines expertly. We were off on our journey.
Heading out, all our discussions about markers and buoys came to life.
“Red right returning, unless you are headed to Texas?” Day joked.
I couldn’t imagine trying to run the intracoastal Waterway without going to school first.
At a blind turn, I blew a short blast on the horn to notify any traffic we were coming. Emily enjoyed her victory in charting. Precious’ engine chugged us onward.
“Reduce your speed under a bridge” Day warned. “You never know if another boat will slip from behind the apron. But not too much. If there is a current, you need adequate steerage.”
“See that boat’s port bow? When he is crossing paths with you, he has the right of way.” He coached us on the basics as we cruised, and in context the instructions were easily remembered. Boating things are best learned by doing.
Day guided us toward an anchorage. We discussed how different types of anchors are used based on the size of the boat and the type of bottom. We used a Bruce anchor because it sets quickly and holds well in tide changes. He had taught us to come up with hand signals before a trip to ensure good communication between bridge and bow. On our trip, a raised fist meant “neutral.” It sure beat yelling through the windshield and over the wind.
Once anchored, Day handed us our test packets. We took our exams on the aft deck. It was a team test and open book. By this time, working together was something Emily and I were very good at. We missed only two questions on the entire test. We cruised back to port.
The Final Bell: Graduation Day
Back at our slip, Day started talking me through the steps and then stopped. He realized I was a split second ahead of him, handling the boat on my own. My initial cockiness was gone. As I was handed my diploma, i started thinking about a more advanced course. Boating school was fun.
There are boat schools around the country. A sampling is listed below. And don’t forget that your local U.S. Power Squadrons or U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla can be a great resource for safe boat-handling instruction.
Florida Sailing & Cruising School at Southwest Florida Yachts
Fort Myers, Florida
U.S. Powerboating based in Portsmouth, Rhode Island
This organization offers a variety of boathandling courses at locations nationwide.
Shore Boating School
This New Jersey-based school offers a variety of boat-handling, safety and navigation courses.
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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.