The Pettipaug Yacht Club’s Waterfront Director, Paul Risseeuw, is conducting Powerboat courses at his club this summer. The Pettipaug club is located in Essex, directly on the Connecticut River. The tuition for the one day, nine and a half hour powerboat course is $180, although there are circumstances when it can cost less. There will be a total of twelve of these courses during the boating season.
The Powerboat course includes an extensive “on shore” briefings of how to safely operate a powerboat, and it also includes considerable time on the water as well, where students operate powerboats themselves on boats owned by the yacht club.
The course on the first of June was attended by nine students. The “on the land” part of the course was held in the meeting room of the Pettipaug clubhouse, which was barely cooled by a single fan. However, the students attending, mostly teenagers, appeared eager to learn from the course.
Risseeuw began the course by saying, “We are going to have to correct some of your bad habits,” that they may have learned from previous motor boating on their own.
Risseeuw then patiently asked each student to share their own powerboating experience. Interestingly, many of the students had experiences in sailboats, but very few knew much about operating a powerboat.
There then ensued an hour plus, introductory lecture by Risseeuw on virtually every aspect on how to operate, safely, a powerboat. He spoke extensively on the basic right of way rules on the water, as well as the important principles involved in starting, stopping and maintaining an outboard engine.
Then, it was down to the docks of the Pettipaug club for some “on the water” instruction on operating a powerboat. The students were divided up in crews of two persons to each boat, and before they climbed on board their boats, Risseeuw spoke at length on how to start an outboard engine, by properly using the choke and the throttle.
He also spoke about the proper maintenance of the fuel and fuel tanks of outboard motors, and the importance of using gas that is less than three months old.
There was also instruction on how properly to get into and out of a powerboat. Risseeuw advocated a “three points of contact” rule. Under this rule, when getting in and out an open motor boat, an operators hands and feet should be touching something solid in three places.
Also, Risseeuw stressed again and again that the students should be wearing properly fitting lifejackets at all times, when they are in, or even around a boat. “I wear my life jacket all the time” he said.
The On-the-Water Part of the Course
Then it was time for the students to climb, two by two, into their assigned powerboats, and to motor out into the waters of the Connecticut River. Although one of the boat crews had a bit of trouble getting their engine started, requiring Risseeuw’s personal oversight, soon all of the boats were off and running over the water.
Risseeuw and his assistants had set up a number of in-line buoys on the water, through which the students were required to wend their way. Another exercise was to have the students circle their powerboats between two stakes, which were very close to each other. Some of the students found this not an easy task.
After an extensive period of operating the powerboats on the water, it was time for a brief lunch, and then, soon after, more tutoring in the club house.
The topics included a lengthy discussion about the meaning of various navigation buoys, and how they are numbered, colored and designed. Risseeuw also discussed the basic “Red-Right-Returning” rule, which means, simply, that when a boat is coming in from Long Island Sound and proceeding up the Connecticut River, it should keep the red buoys on their right.
Also, during the afternoon session of the course there was a long review of the right away rules on the water. These were introduced with a caveat by Risseeuw that, unfortunately, many powerboaters have no idea about proper “right of way” rules. When this becomes evident, he said, the best recourse for a knowledgeable boater is to just to get out of the way.
Under proper “right of way” rules, the vessel that is required to get out of the way is called the “burdened” vessel, and it should give way to an oncoming vessel.
Boating Can Be Dangerous!
Also, Risseeuw stressed again and again at the sessions that boating can be dangerous. He cited one accident on the Connecticut River last year where a driver in a boating accident had his head severed off by running his jet-ski into a fixed dock. Risseeuw noted in passing that jet-skis, officially known as Personal Watercraft, can travel over the water at over 50 miles an hour.
Risseeuw said in was his opinion, “Many of the persons who ride on Personal Watercraft are idiots and are reckless.”
He also told the students that most boating accidents happen late in the afternoon. This is when a boater is tired with too much sun, and perhaps too much alcohol. In Risseeuw’s view, “There is nothing positive about alcohol while boating. Drinking on a boat can lower reaction times and is never a good idea.”
Also discussed was what to do when a boat capsizes. Risseeuw’s cardinal rule is, “Always stay with the boat.”
“Hypothermia” was also discussed. It means a dangerous lowering of the body’s temperature, which can be life threatening. It can occur when a person spends too much time in cold water. The dangers of having gas fumes on boats were also discussed.
Answering a 60 Question Test to Pass the Course
Risseeuw said that to pass the course the students had to get 80 percent correct of a 60 question test. If they do pass the course, students receive two new boating licenses, 1) A U.S. Sailing certification, and 2) a Connecticut State Personal Watercraft/Safe Boating license.
As for how the students liked the course, Powerboat Student Bryan Byrnes-Jacobsen of Niantic, who appeared to be restless at times, excused himself by saying, “I don’t sit well.” He then went on to say, enthusiastically, that he had learned “a lot from the hands-on experience” of the course.
Bryan will be the Head Sailing Instructor at the Thames Yacht Club in New London this summer.
Powerboat Student Megan Ryan from Ivoryton, said that she thought the course was “really good,” and she was pleased that she could, “really go out on the water.” She admitted that before the course, she “did not know how to drive a motor boat,” and that the course was her “first time” to do so.
Megan will be a Junior Instructor at the Pettipaug Yacht Club this summer.
For more information on the Powerboat course, which is open to all, go to www.pettipaug.com.