Boating Education Is Better on the Water

Robert Anderson, Chuck Wells and Shawn Goit


America’s Boating Club’s on the water training and certification programs include both on-water training and boating skills certification. On-the-water training provides hands-on skill development for new boaters and a practical extension of our classroom instruction. Our Boat Operator Certification program provides credentials certifying the boating skills and educational achievements of members.

Jump Start Program

Using the Jump Start Program framework, squadron members can provide free one-on-one training sessions to a member or non-member on the student’s own boat. Ideally, students should have some boating experience but limited experience with the type of boat on which the training will be conducted.

Training is customized to fit each new boater’s needs with the goal of teaching essential skills for safe boating and eliminating barriers to boating enjoyment.

Most students want training in basic docking skills; however, many others also want training on their boat’s systems and equipment, which includes checking the engine oil level and mixing oil and gas for outboard engines that use this mixture.

The training is set at two hours, which provides enough time to teach several skills and sets reasonable expectations for students.

Providing a personalized, high-quality training experience, the Jump Start Program creates a bond between the student and squadron while encouraging participation in additional squadron training and activities. When offered to non-members, this free program can be used as a recruiting tool.

On-the-Water teaching aid guides

Our courses—from America’s Boating Course to Navigation— and their related boat handling and navigation seminars teach skills boaters need for pre-cruise planning at the dock and on the water. They teach how to operate a boat using marine electronics and what to do should electronics and their back-ups fail.

Developed by the Educational Department, our on-the-water teaching aid guides provide a framework for supplementing classroom instruction with skills training. Skills training involves skill demonstrations by approved instructors and instructor-supervised practice for students with feedback and coaching.

Each guide includes policy and procedure preliminaries that meet the American National Standards Institute standards for recreational power boating and lists of skills that may be taught, with a reference to the corresponding course chapter used in classroom instruction.

Hands-on Training: Basic Powerboat

Designed for new boaters, our Hands-On Training: Basic Powerboat program provides skill-based training in the essential techniques of powerboat operation. Developed under a grant from the U.S. Coast Guard, this program incorporates the national on-water standards for powerboat operation and instruction.

Although designed for new boaters, the program also benefits experienced boat operators. Students gain a deeper understanding of boat operation while learning new skills and techniques. Both new and experienced boaters get elevated boat-handling skills, increased confidence on the water, and enhanced boating enjoyment.

This program consists of a one-day, eight-hour training session, with three hours of classroom training and five hours of training and practice behind the wheel of a boat. Students learn about safety equipment and procedures, basic operation and controls, maneuvering, docking, anchoring, operating on plane, crew overboard recovery and much more.

For those who want to learn how to handle a boat over 26 feet, we have a separate on-the-water program for large powerboats. In addition to the above topics, the program stresses maneuvering, docking and anchoring a large boat.

Boat Operator Certification program

“That was fun!” exclaimed Paul, a long-time squadron member, as he completed the slalom for the Inland Navigator certification in District 5. Most members participating in the D/5 BOC program expressed the same sentiment: Boat Operator Certification is fun.

This program demonstrates a boater’s skill and knowledge on the water. Open to members only, Boat Operator Certification has four successive levels that certify a member’s ability to operate in increasingly challenging waters (on longer trips and farther offshore).

Each level requires completion of certain courses and seminars as well as on-the-water skill demonstrations with a specially trained certifier. The levels are Inland Navigator, Coastal Navigator, Advanced Coastal Navigator and Offshore Navigator.

Each level must be accomplished in a properly equipped boat; for inland navigator, the boat should be 16 to 26 feet, and for other levels, the boat should be over 26 feet. A detailed description of each level is provided in the BOC manuals available on The robust program currently has 38 regional and assistant regional directors; more than 248 certifiers are available to test each member’s skills.

Boat Operator Certification contributes to the boater’s resume when chartering sail or power vessels in the United States. Charter operators have varying requirements, and prospective charterers should be familiar with the necessary knowledge, skills and experiences to charter a boat in their desired area.

USPS Boat Schools

USPS Boat Schools are held in each Boat Operator Certification-OTW region. The three- to four-day Boat Schools certify candidates for Inland Navigator, Coastal Navigator, Advanced Coastal Navigator and Offshore Navigator. Certifier candidates learn to become certifiers and certifier trainers at each level during this three- to four-day event. Certifiers certify candidates at each BOC level. Certifier trainers train new certifiers. Certifier instructor is the highest level of trainer. Instructors set up USPS Boat Schools and train new certifiers, certifier trainers and certifier instructors.

Three to four USPS Boat Schools are held each year. To learn more, visit our Boat Operator Certification Committee webpage at

Committee responsibilities

Responsible for the on-the-water training and certification programs, the Boat Operator Certification-OTW Committee oversees the flexible programs (Jump Start and OTW Guides), credentialed programs (Hands-On Training, Basic Powerboat, Large Powerboat), and the Boat Operator Certification program.

Flexible programs (Can be modified to meet individual needs)
Jump StartOne-on-one training for new boat ownersAny memberStudent’s boatEveryoneFree
On-the-Water GuidesExtended classroom training with on-the-water exercisesAny memberAny boatEveryoneFree
Credentialed programs (Teaching and certifying on-the-water standards)
Hands-On Training
Basic PowerboatBasic handling, no experience neededBOC Certifier16–26’ powerboatEveryone$40/free to members
Large PowerboatHandling large powerboatsBOC Certifier26’+ powerboatsEveryone$40/free to members
Boat Operator Certification
Inland NavigatorCertify skills for basic boat handlingBOC Certifier16–26’ powerboatMember$44 plus cost of classes & seminars
Coastal NavigatorCertify skills for basic coastal navigationBOC CertifierAny boatMember$44 plus cost of classes & seminars
Advanced Coastal NavigatorCertify skills for advanced coastal navigationBOC CertifierAny boatMember$44 plus cost of classes & seminars
Offshore NavigatorCertify skills for offshore navigationBOC CertifierAny boatMember$44 plus cost of classes & seminars
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The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.