Raise the Anchor

A training program for commercial skippers extends its reach to recreational boaters

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“One overarching mistake,” says Captain Zach Rollins, “is that people think they know what they’re doing. They assume the weather will stay the same. They assume the boat ahead of them will turn. They think, ‘I’m in the open sea, rules don’t apply to me.’ Most fatal events result from that overconfidence.”

Zach is cheerful, youthful, and built like a Vin Diesel. He spent much of his youth in Wickford, and his family has always owned a boat. He graduated from URI with a degree in Marine Affairs and – just as importantly – he completed the Rhode Island-based training program Confident Captain. There is a handful of such programs in New England where eager students like Zach learn to oversee 100-ton ships. The moment he finished, Confident Captain offered him a job.

This year, Rollins is teaching for a new program, Just Go Boating, which helps recreational skippers safely operate their powerboats. Classes cover basic but vital skills, such as docking, using the VHF radio, and navigating at night.

“Some students have never stepped into a boat,” says Zach. “Those are the most fun.”

The concept began at last year’s Newport International Boat Show, where Confident Captain offered hands-on tutorials for casual boaters. The lessons attracted more than 100 participants, and they ran the gamut of background and experience. Most owned some kind of vessel, but some were lifelong landlubbers. Demand was high, and classes continued after the festival; another 100 or so students signed up, including millionaire CEOs and wounded veterans. Since then, Confident Captain has created a separate brand, with its own curriculum, website, and intended audience.

This summer is the true maiden voyage for Just Go Boating, and classes will take place in both Wickford and Providence. Zach says instructors use a “walk before you can run” approach, tailoring lessons to the skill-level of each student. The results are mostly personal; while Confident Captain prepares pupils for a career in ferries and container ships, Just Go Boating helps everyday boaters become safer at sea. Some would-be mariners are cocky and brag about their knot-tying abilities; others are too nervous to grip the wheel. But Zach says that most students end up drifting in the right direction.

So, have there been any surprises?

“I don’t know if it’s a surprise,” says Zach, “but I’ve found that women are the best students. They’re just better at listening.”