Be A Commanding Partner

By Kristiina Korpus

BoatUS and the U.S. Power Squadrons team up to turn your first mate into your "Partner In Command".

Photo of a pretty woman driving a boatPicking up some simple, important operating skills will make your crew's experience aboard safer and more fun.

Admit it, you love your boat. What could be more fun than taking your family and friends out for a day on the water? But let's be honest, when was the last time you let someone else take the helm for more than a few minutes at a time? Sure, you give your crew safety briefings, and show them where life jackets are kept and other important information. But do you show them how to radio for help? We don't want to be accused of inciting a mutiny, but could your first mate take command of your boat, get help, and bring your boat safely back to the dock if something should happen to you? If not, then that first mate probably is experiencing more trepidation aboard than you realize.

The BoatUS Foundation has teamed up with the U.S. Power Squadrons to bring advanced boating education online. Our first course together, "Partner In Command," aims to teach these practical skills to those boaters who don't necessarily have the same level of experience as the regular captain. Being a partner-in-command means being prepared to take control of the boat, and knowing what to do in any situation where the skipper is no longer able. At the very least, the first mate should know how to stop the boat, how to fire up the engine, to use the VHF radio, and to know basic rules of the road.

Often, captains are reluctant to step aside, so first mates don't usually end up starting the engine, but that's the first step to taking over in an emergency. Would your first mate know that blowers need to be run for four minutes, to clear any gas fumes that might ignite when starting? Most boats have a key to turn, like a car, but not all of them, and there's more to learn depending on your engine type. Gasoline engines have different quirks than diesel, and an outboard is very different from an inboard. Understanding the VHF radio and making an emergency call are equally important. Your first mate might think they'll rely on a cell phone in an emergency, but what if there's no signal, or the battery dies? The VHF radio is the number one way to call for help or assistance out on the water. Unlike a cell phone, which can only dial one number at a time, a VHF can reach everyone within 15-25 miles who's monitoring the radio, including your local Coast Guard Station or TowBoatUS port. Knowing how to use a VHF is a critical skill.

A third key skill, in case the captain is incapacitated, is for the first mate to know the rules of the road, lights, markers, and buoys, and be familiar with getting around on the water. It's all easy to learn, but when riding along as a passenger, with someone else calling the shots, these skills can easily be taken for granted. A first mate that doesn't know these simple concepts often feels nervous aboard. Learning (from someone other than the skipper!) gives a first mate more confidence, which equals peace of mind and the "Partner In Command" course is a great way to build this confidence. Yes, you might be risking a future mutiny from a first mate that would actually like a bigger say in running the boat, but it just might be worth it.

"Partner In Command" is offered online for the introductory price of $40. For a limited time BoatUS members can also get a discount by using the promotion code "BUSmember." Visit 

The BoatUS Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization devoted to implementing projects that keep boaters safer and our environment protected, is independently funded by donations from BoatUS Members and by grants.

— Published: August/September 2013

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