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Women need boating education too

The current issue of Small Craft Advisory, a publication of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), raises an interesting issue concerning women and boating education. It suggests many women are not prepared to operate the boat without their spouse or partner, primarily because it’s customary that the male does the captaining. But that raises a legitimate safety question and the personal experience of Robin Freeman, Chief of the Dept. of Education, Coast Guard Auxiliary brings it home best.

Freeman says: “For the first few years of our marriage, my husband, Rick, and I fished from our 10-foot inflatable ‘starter boat.’ It soon became evident that I enjoyed the water so we purchased a larger offshore fishing boat.

“It was during one of our first few trips offshore,” she continued, “that Rick asked me to stand by the wheel while he went aft to tie some fishing jigs. Suddenly I heard a gurgling, choking sound. I whipped around to find Rick doubled over, is face bright red! I feared it was a heart attack. Three horrible thoughts struck simultaneously: I don’t know where I am. . . I don’t know how to call for help. . . Please don’t die!”

Freeman went on the share that while she knew how to steer the boat, she’d never really driven it and she didn’t even know how to use the radio. Fortunately, Rick was not having a heart attack. He’d chewed off and inhaled the tag end of some mono line and was trying to cough it up. But during those dramatic seconds that Rick was gasping and coughing, Freeman says she instantly knew the feeling of helplessness. That led her to realize she also needed some boating education and operating experience.

It makes a lot of sense that women boaters should have a chance to acquire the basic skills and knowledge to operate the family boat, if only for an emergency situation. I know of a few dealers who encourage their customers, husband and wife, to take a boating course. Some of those dealers hold the course right in their showroom. I also know one or two dealers that annually hold an on-the-water women-only boating class at their dealership including hands-on boat operating instruction using a new demo boats, of course.

It’s a fact that boating education efforts are an excellent vehicle not only to help your customers become more confident and safer on the water, but to bring them into the store more often. I call that a win-win.


6 comments on “Women need boating education too

  1. Bill Husted

    I’m happy to see that Norm Schultz and Robin Freeman are “beating the drums” for boating education, in this instance for women. If you were not aware of it, U.S. Power Squadrons for many years has been offering its “Skipper Saver” course, which is primarily designed to provide the “2nd in command” with essential boating pointers in the event they want to become more knowledgeable about the process or their captain becomes incapacitated and it’s necessary to take charge of the situation. The “Skipper Saver” program is, of course, in addition to the two classroom and one online basic boating courses already offered by USPS. This organization is developing an entirely new approach to boating education called “USPS University.” Check it out at

  2. Natalie Friton

    Women need boating education too–obviously. Just as much as their male counterparts. Once a couple commits to boating together, its critical that they have interchangeable roles and are prepared for the worse-case scenario. Any prudent boater will go through the steps of being prepared for an emergency, including acquiring the proper education. What this article didn’t include are the resources or solutions for women, and boaters, to gain that education. Sea Sense Sailing and Powerboating School in Florida, for example, focuses entirely on boating education for women. PassageMaker University and Trawler Fest events often include women-only courses such as Women-Only Boat Handling and Women-Only Navigation. There are dozens of other boating schools throughout the country prepared to give classes or one-on-one education for those ready and willing to learn.

  3. Wilson

    More to it than you say…In many cases women make the decisions and write the checks…The industry need to place more attention and focus on them if sales are to go up…the more fmiliar they are with a boat an it’s operation, the more likely they are to okay the purchase and join in the use….the use which incidentially, usually results in buying a bigger boat.

  4. mary

    I am in the beginning stages of compiling a list of this type of course. I know that Texas has a course for women also. I would like more information on the ones available in Ohio
    Thank you


    Recognizing the varied diferences in learning styles from individuals as well as from different genders we have and continue to offer diferent ciriculiums for women boaters as independants and co-operators.

  6. Capt Russ Cohen

    Hi Norm,

    I’ve been thinking of writing you on many topics before, but what a great topic this is! I’m founder and president of a school called Boatboy Marine Training (BMT), one of those dozens of other boating schools Natalie mentioned above. We also promote USPS & USCG Aux. classes to our customers. BMT’s training is always “Hands-on” and 90% of the time we train on our customer’s boat, at their dock, on their waterway! It’s the best way to learn!

    We have trained hundreds of women successfully on their own boat! We also have taught many WOW events such as you mentioned and I’ll tell ya, they are so much fun to do! I’m not manbashing here, but women are often better students than men! They listen, don’t think they know it all, are not as competitive, follow instructions and honestly are better at docking sometimes because they’re slower and can control the shifters with a better touch.

    3 quick points worth mentioning. 1. BMT is trying to receive the NASBLA Seal of Approval and basically they said they’re years away from any “Hands-on” education approvals. 2. Most husbands and wives default to the typical roles of man at the helm after our training so teaching both husband and wife is important because 90% of boating is about the “Communication” between them! 3. As we speak I’m calling on dealers in SW FL trying to promote “Hands-on” education and most of them still don’t think it’s a value added service worth offering. (I can prove they’re dead wrong)

    When is this industry going to learn that if we sell a person a boat, they’ll use it a season or two, but, if we teach a person to boat, they’ll go boating for a lifetime! At least golfers & snow skiers have no way of getting “Hands-on” instruction! Oh, that’s right, there’s a golf pro & ski instructor at every location! I just came from a motorcycle rally and they were promoting the “Harley Davidson Rider’s Edge Academy” course. Any marine manufacturers actually advertising and sponsoring a “Hands-on” training course for boaters, without spending 100K, I didn’t think so.

    BTW, I have had many discussions on the topic of “Hands-on” education with leaders of the industry and now with you! Your articles are great and inspiring, keep it up!

    Thanks for your time, take care and as always, we’ll See Ya on the Water!
    Capt Russ Cohen, Founder & President
    Boatboy Marine Training

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