The conversation about qualification standards for sailing instructors is wildly different from the years past when anyone who had summers free could coach. This shift in conversation is for good reason. The sailing community has begun looking into the possibility and feasibility of more stringent standards for instructors' power boat handling skills. Sailing World's Kimball Livingston asked Nautical Solutions owner, Jaimie Bartlett, what she thought about the topic. Livingston convinced his editors to publish an article in the March 2018 issue in an effort to promote this important conversation.
Thank you, Kimball Livingston, for being a proponent for power boat training and bringing this topic into the minds of Sailing World's followers.
Why is this topic important? The reason is simple ... safety! Let me set the scene for you all. Most sailing programs consist of high school or college kids driving around in high speed death machines (AKA power boats) trying to herd cats.
The skills that are required to safely (not even effectively!) ... JUST SAFELY ... teach any level of sailors on the water are MUCH more than the handful of skills that are tested during an instructor course. They are also required to demonstrate their PB handling skills during other parts of the course. During this time, they have to successfully run a water drill ... for 5 minutes. Most "ok" vessel operators can feign power boat handling skills for a 5 minute drill where they sit stationary and "coach" experienced sailors pretending to be beginner sailors. Where as, any practiced coach can tell you that a lot can go wrong in 5 minutes with actual beginner sailors. If your nervous or apprehensive about your skills, can you ... should you! ... get in there and help when things go wrong? Until you have the necessary skills, you are no better than a passive observer.
What skills are necessary? Not just to be a safe passive observer, but to be a safe and effective coach, I tell my students, "when the boat feels as if it's an extension of your body and you don't have to think about driving it, that's when you start to effectively coach". You can be a safe coach before driving your boat is muscle memory, but can you really be an effective coach if you worried or thinking about your power boat handling skills. When you learn to race in regattas, can you truly achieve high rankings until the same thing happens? You can not truly focus on the tactical moves that you have to make until you don't have to think about the boat handling skills. Coaching sailing is the same way. Coaching any physical skill is the same way. Luckily, most YC programs put new instructors with experienced ones so that they can carry more of the coaching load.
As an instructor trainer for US Sailing, I have found that instructor candidates (ICs) have the most trouble with powerboat practical assessment. That is why Nautical Solutions has been teaming up with yacht club programs to provide power boat training for the ICs and continuing education for certified instructors (CIs).
In my opinion, we may not be stressing the importance of having competent instructors by only testing basic power boat skills. I've personally had students pass the series of skills who later told me that they have never operated a boat before. What does this say? Does it say that the instructor is grading too loosely (I assure you that is not the case - ask my students), that our standards are too low or that these people are the exception? Well, it is absolutely the exception but it is also a combination between that and our standards of assessment. There are many more students who find the assessment extremely difficult. It evokes quite a large amount of stress and anxiety for 99% of the ICs. Even though the students complain that it is too hard, they don't realize the level of skill that they will actually need to do their job safely.
Is it feasible to teach these skills during instructor certification courses? They are already jam packed with 10-hour days and late nights to minimize the amount of school/work students must miss to attend. Anyone who has taken ANY US Sailing course can attest to the daunting amount of tasks that must be accomplished within the time frame. There is no possible way to fit in any thing else during IC courses. To me, there are two options. 1) Include a 5th day of power boat training or 2) require all ICs to have a US Powerboating certification prior to their instructor course. Many yacht clubs have already adopted the latter plan for multiple reasons.
What do you think about this topic? Do you have suggestions or other insights to the matter that may be important?