Let’s be real: the state boating course is a joke! I know it's a bold statement, but when you really dive deep into what it takes to operate a boat safely, competently, and, most importantly, with confidence, it merely lays the foundations and doesn't serve as an entrance exam. Although I don’t disagree with having some sort of course in place to legally operate a boat, it seems silly that you need to take a hands-on course to drive a car, yet for boating, it's just a few multiple-choice questions.
You Don't Know What You Don't Know
I hear it all the time: "I grew up on the water and learned everything from my Uncle Ted" or "I’ve had boats all my life, but always on a lake." Both statements tell me that you probably don’t know the first thing about driving a boat, especially in the ocean. For generations, knowledge has been passed down, but is it the right information? Often, we play the game of telephone, and by the time the message reaches the last person, it's completely different from the original. The same goes for Uncle Ted learning from Grandpa Jim, and so on.
Granted, it’s not their fault; you don’t know what you don’t know. Unfortunately, some people prefer to learn the hard way, while others are willing to leave their ego at the door and ask for help. Asking for help is a superpower. Wanting to improve and learning from those who have seemingly mastered their craft helps you cut through the fog and reach your goals faster. Most people hire a personal trainer to get in shape, so why should a boating instructor be any different?
Invest in Someone's Time to Save You Money
Recently, I've hired several coaches in my life. One has been with me for a long time, helping me get stronger physically, while another more recent coach strengthens me mentally. Both are expenses I'm willing to incur, knowing that the investment in myself far outweighs the money exchanged. It's a no-brainer for me, and the same principle applies to anyone looking to elevate their boating expertise. Why struggle when you can buy decades of experience for a fraction of the cost? One of my first coaches gave me some sage advice that has stuck with me.
He said, "You aren’t paying to lift weights and get stronger; you're paying for the 10 years I spent in college obtaining my doctorate and the thousands of hours spent learning to be the best. I can explain it to you in 5 minutes because you're paying for my brain."
This has stuck with me for almost a decade and is how I approach learning faster in life. When it comes to boating, hiring an instructor is just the same.
Knowledge Is Power
Who remembers Schoolhouse Rock? Though I'm a younger guy, I remember watching hours of Schoolhouse Rock, probably because my Mom was a school teacher. However, they had a tagline that is spot on: "Knowledge is Power." An early mentor of mine, Captain Tom McGinn, used to say this often, and he was right. The more you know, the more powerful you can be. It's a simple equation, and you don’t need to know everything, just enough to be effective.
Just as it applies in daily life, the same holds true on the water. You might not know every rule in Chapman's Book of Seamanship, and neither do I. However, I know enough to have an understanding of what to do and when to ask questions. For example, if you find yourself in a situation where a boat is crossing your bow and you're unsure of the right of way, knowing to slow down and let them pass is just as important as knowing the rule itself. Later, you can go home and learn more about crossing situations, but it's more important to get home safely than to end up in a potential disaster. Knowledge and common sense are power, so use them.
They say a black belt will eventually fade to white, and that even though someone is an expert in their craft, a true black belt is one who is constantly learning. Keep that white belt mentality and never be afraid to keep learning