You don’t need to be a seasoned skipper to spot a maverick boat operator when you see one. Spend any length of time on the shores of a lake or in a marina on a busy summer’s day and you won’t have to wait long to see someone strike a pontoon or ‘swamp’ the water behind their boat with their outboard.
Suffice to say it’s well worth doing a course to learn the basic knowledge and skills required to operate a power boat safely! Whether provided by the ASA (American Sailing Association) in the US or RYA (Royal Yachting Association) in Europe, it doesn’t matter all that much, both organisations have courses to help you become a better power boater.
My own experience of learning to drive a boat began a few years ago when I undertook the RYA Powerboat Level 2 Course (PB2). I have to say for someone who was as new to the activity as I was at the time, the experience was invaluable. Though much of what’s involved in driving a boat seems like common sense, if you want to do things properly it pays to have an instructor on hand to help you out to iron out silly mistakes before they have a chance to become bad habits.
What is the Significance of the PB2?
The PB2 is an internationally recognised qualification that demonstrates the holder has attained a basic level of competence of handling a boat.
Perhaps most crucially, if you have the PB2 to your name you can then apply for an International Certificate of Competence (ICC). This is required in many European countries if you wish to charter a Yacht.
The PB2 is also a necessary stepping stone if you want to undertake further more advanced power boat training including the intermediate, advanced and safety boat courses.
What is Covered on the PB2?
The great thing about this course is that it doesn’t make any assumptions about what you may or may not already know about boating. Instead the approach is to start right from the beginning and leave nothing to assumption.
Some people might find being told that ‘wearing sunscreen and sunglasses’ is so obvious that to be told so insults their intelligence, but I personally don’t see it that way. People get too hung up on the aesthetics of boating that it’s all too easy to overlook the basic health and safety principles involved. And let’s face it, that has to come first!
The course starts with classroom based theory covering the basics, from the aforementioned health and safety advice, to the fundamentals of the main hull form designs and how they perform on the water, to basic rules of the road, and understanding of tides.
Before you even take to the water this gives you a good understanding of the environment around you when you do, which straight away takes care of a lot of questions you might have otherwise had in the back of your mind, for example with regard to boating etiquette, and the significance of buoys and other markers.
Once you hit the water the emphasis is very much on controlling the boat at low speed and getting a good feel for maneuvering and coming alongside objects; basically what I would describe as having total command and control over the boat.
Travelling at speed safely is also covered, including turning sharply and having good observation of the sea and any potential hazards. In other words the basics of collision avoidance (colregs).
Safety critical topics such as man overboard drills and the importance of an engine kill cord are also covered, for obvious reasons. Although the thing that struck me most when my instructor was covering safety essentials was how most people neglect to use the between the legs strap on a lifejacket, effectively rendering it useless. Go figure!
The other key area covered involves developing a basic knowledge and competency tying knots and tying off ropes to cleats and rails.
Advantages of Doing the Course
Whilst the PB2 won’t instantly transform you into the next power boating champion, it will certainly give you a good grounding if that’s what you want to go on to do.
More prosaically, if you want to get work on board a yacht having the PB2 under your belt is a good baseline qualification for demonstrating that you have a basic understanding on working at sea safely.
For me a big draw was not having to invest too much time to get the qualification. The course is only 2 days long, and what’s more for about 320 bucks (£250) it isn’t a huge financial burden either.
Above all though, the PB2 just makes you a more confident skipper and puts to rest most reservations you might otherwise have about being out on the water and in control of a boat.
Also, knowing just how many people don’t bother getting any kind of tuition at all before taking to the water, often in an extremely powerful and potentially dangerous boat, it pays to be able to know a) what you’re doing and b) what others are doing wrong so you can give them a wide berth!
Disadvantages of Doing the Course
I can’t think of many reasons not to do the PB2 if you’re a beginner in the power boating world. Obviously if you’ve been boating for years and have picked up your knowledge from other sensible and experienced skippers then clearly it might not be worth the time or money. Having said that, there’s certainly never going to be any harm in doing it!