Gary Rogers steers his boat as Doug Sherman instructs.

On-the-water training boosts squadron membership

By Doug Sherman

Located in central California with a thousand miles of waterways, San Joaquin Delta Power Squadron/25 offers several options to help boaters become safer and more proficient on the water. The squadron has earned a reputation from local boaters as well as local marinas, marine supply stores, brokers and insurance carriers for providing valuable training, helping train more knowledgeable boaters and creating safer waterways for everyone.

The squadron partners with the California Division of Boating and Waterways to present the Dockwalker program to all students. This program stresses the importance of protecting the environment from boat sewage and oil discharge treatments. Students receive an area map and app of pump-out locations in the delta.

The squadron also discusses the importance of maintaining a “boat book” specific to the student’s particular boat and keeping it at or near the helm. This handy reference is especially important for someone taking command if the skipper becomes disabled.

The squadron offers two on-the-water programs for new boaters: Jump Start and Partner in Command. Although the programs share some similarities, the squadron education team takes different paths when teaching them.

Jump Start

Recognizing that the Jump Start program was developed for people new to boating or to a particular type of boat, San Joaquin Delta Power Squadron encourages everyone to participate in America’s Boating Course. Our one-on-one training begins with a review of the Dockwalker information and a quick area map overview. We also talk about free or inexpensive GPS or navigation apps for boaters.

Next comes an in-depth discussion of a vessel safety check. By going through the check in detail, which may mean crawling down in the bilges, the owner can fully understand the importance of the check and the need for the required and suggested safety items. We also review the boat book and help owners decide what information to include.

Next, we locate all through-hull fittings and ball valves, identify various pumps and tanks, and make sure the owners knows their boats. After covering the interior, we look at anchors, rode, connections, fenders, and the lines owners will need. We also review or teach some basic knots or hitches.

After the basics have been covered, we move to the water. Our squadron has developed an on-the-water checklist for both our Jump Start and Partner in Command classes. When working with Jump Start students, we devote significantly more time to all the exercises. In several instances, Jump Start training is the first time some new boaters have had their boats out of the slip or off the trailer. Our training stresses docking starboard to dock, port to dock, stern to dock, bow to dock and anchoring. Our students learn pivot points, operating in both forward and reverse, and maneuvering 180 degrees. Finally, it’s time to head for open water; play with all the various electronics, trim tabs, etc.; review navigational aids; and start boating.

Partner in Command

Partner in Command isn’t just a two-hour seminar for San Joaquin Delta Power Squadron. We provide this training at the island training facility we lease in the delta. Students can come on Friday evening and stay through Sunday if they desire. Training begins on Saturday morning with a review of key items from America’s Boating Course and includes hands-on demonstrations of flares, fire extinguishers and signaling devices. We also review VHF radio use and procedures. We spend the remainder of the day performing on-the-water exercises.

We limit the number of students to provide empty docks when practicing docking procedures, and instructors serve a light dinner at the end of the day. Instructors are paired with students for one-on-one instruction, and the skipper becomes the first mate and line handler. Since this training is generally given to spouses, significant others, partners, and people who boat with the skipper on a regular basis, it covers basics and assumes the skipper will continue the exercises during normal boating outings.

Training aids

When working with students on different types of boats, we sometimes use additional training aids to better equip operators when performing different skills. For twin engine vessels, we use the idea of pushing a shopping cart or operating a piece of equipment such as a bobcat to simulate how the boat will handle.

For single engine outdrives, it’s sometimes advantageous to use an outboard ski or fishing boat to show how the direction of the engine affects maneuvering the boat.

San Joaquin Delta Power Squadron has worked with local insurance carriers who require boaters take a class and have on-the-water training before taking out their boats. We provide instructors’ boating resumes and qualifications to the particular underwriters as well as a description of the guidelines required by the U.S. Coast Guard and America’s Boating Club for administering Jump Start training. Our instructors provide training session details and evaluation letters at the end of the training.

Our free training has been attractive to boat owners and carriers alike. Training sessions for our squadron range from four to 18 hours, depending on the boat owner. We provide flyers to local marinas and marine stores outlining our programs and work with their personnel to ensure they understand the programs.

All these classes have resulted in new members joining our squadron. Any squadron interested in obtaining more information on how we operate our particular programs can check out our website, sjdps.org, or contact our squadron educational department. A brief PowerPoint presentation covering both programs is available on request. Browse the videos contained on our photos and video tab, and check out testimonials from students on the Jump Start page under Boating Education by clicking on the “Jump Start Flyer.”


Doug Sherman spent 25 years teaching young people boat handling in the Sea Scout Program in Long Beach and Los Angeles. He has been a San Joaquin Delta Power Squadron/25 member for 10 years.

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