Hands-on Boating Course Builds Skills

Ed Smith


Relatively new to boating, my wife, Donnia, and I decided to take a hands-on boating course at the America’s Boating Club Learning Center in Tavares, Florida. The center has been offering this course for a little over a year.

We had already taken our required state boater safety course as well as Seamanship (now called Boat Handling) and Piloting, along with many other seminars and classes. All of which had helped improve our boating skills.

Since we only had three year’s boating experience, we thought supervised time behind the wheel would help us become better boaters, so we signed up for Hands-On Training: Basic Powerboat.

Hands-on boating course: in class plus on-the-water

The one-day hands-on boating course starts at 8 a.m. and runs till 4:30 p.m. Since Tavares is about two hours from our home port on the Manatee River, we made it a fun adventure by driving up the night before and staying at a nearby hotel. We knew a good night’s sleep would help our performance in class.

The class is held at Fisherman’s Cove on Lake Harris, an ideal training location. Limited to just four students, the hands-on boating course provides ample time for individual learning and one-on-one skill building. The day begins with a few hours of basic instruction and review. The objective is to develop an understanding of boat behavior, learn practical boat handling techniques, and perform hands-on exercises that build boating skills.

Classroom session teaches new skills and ways of thinking

In the classroom, we reviewed how a boat steers. Donnia and I found using a lumber cart at the hardware store to be a good example of this. Next time you’re in the lumber section, you can demonstrate your boating skills.

We discussed how to use thrust and steering together, and how to operate in reverse. While on the water during the practical session, I spent more time in reverse than I have in my entire boating experience. Using reverse to understand how a boat really functions is a great learning technique.

The instructor covered safe boating equipment and processes using the same technique vessel examiner and squadron member Don Hanzlik shared with me a few weeks before. As part of the safety orientation, Don gives a safety checklist to new passengers on his boat and has them take part. Great idea!

Our classroom instructor (and retired firefighter), Tim Henke of District 23, taught us a simple way to tie a bowline. For anyone who has ever struggled with tying this knot, that in and of itself might have been worth the trip to Tavares.

Hands-on on-the-water training makes learning fun

However, the real fun and learning began when we got aboard the training vessel, a 21-foot center-console Carolina Skiff. Capt. George Yates drilled us on the water for five hours. His patience vastly exceeded his reputation.

We practiced mastering the pivot turn, a 360-degree turn and quick stop; using the spring lines; backing the boat (and backing the boat and backing the boat!); leaving the dock in close quarters; stopping the boat; mooring; anchoring; and rescuing a man overboard. Then we got to the slalom course. We took the slalom at slow speed, on plane, and yes, backward. It was a lot of fun!

We covered a lot more in this hands-on boating course, but I won’t give everything away. It’s safe to say that we came away with an extensive list of skills we can practice to make us better boaters.

For more information on this exciting training opportunity, go to abclc.org.

Ed Smith and his wife, Donnia, have been members of Florida’s Manatee Sail & Power Squadron in District 22 for the last three years. They boat on the Manatee River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway aboard KatieLee, a 22-foot Hurricane.

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