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Hands-on customer training: good or bad?

Legend Marine Group in Carrollton, Texas, recently announced it will offer hands-on training to customers who buy certain boat models. The dealership sells Formula, Fountain, Monterey and Donzi and, obviously, the program will be a buying incentive for their performance boat buyers. 

Legend has teamed up with Tres Martin’s Performance Boat School in Ocala, Fla., to provide the customer training. Martin’s offers skill-based courses ranging from Basic Boat Indoctrination to an Ultimate High Performance Class in Ocala.

According to Brad Schoenwald at Legend, “New boat owners will learn boat-type specific skills. We think it’s especially important to operators of high performance boats. They also receive substantial discounts on their insurance premiums,” he adds.

Legend’s program got me thinking.

Should all dealers be offering some form of skill-based training to new boat buyers? When we say new boat buyers, are we thinking first time boaters or current boaters moving up? What about a used boat buyer?

Right or wrong, the Coast Guard always seems quick to point out a boater in an accident who doesn’t have any formal boating education. Dealers are frequently accused of just selling the boats and sending the customers off without any training. But that criticism may be only partly true. I think most dealers take time to review with all customers the basic systems operation during the delivery process. However, hands-on skill-based training is another matter.

Is it a good idea? I think so, especially for a new boater. Sure, it may take some time out with the customer to develop his boat handling skills. But I suspect, in the end, that the customer will be a more confident boater, use the boat more because he is confident, become a safer boater and be a prime customer for repeat purchases from you.

If your dealership is large enough, perhaps you have a staff member who is an excellent boat handler, has a teacher’s affable personality and an interest in helping new boaters. He or she can be “the instructor.” Or, perhaps you can work out an arrangement with a local power squadron or Coast Guard auxiliary member who’d like to give hands-on training. How about a customer that’s retired and might jump at the chance to do it in return for some small consideration. Finding “the instructor” shouldn’t be hard.

In the end, I don’t see how we can lose if we take time to help our customers be better users of our products simply by improving their skills. 


12 comments on “Hands-on customer training: good or bad?

  1. Bob Armstrong

    It’s about time. When someone with your degree of respect within the industry says so, maybe others will listen. (I sometimes think I’ve been talking to myself for the past 30 years or so!) Having been involved with both classroom only and also hands-on boating courses, I’ve seen the difference an on-water portion can make. And you are 100% correct; I’ve also seen people get out of boating because they were so afraid of making a critical mstakle that it just wasn’t any fun. And yet, for years our industry has insisted that no training is necessary. I also believe that while any proper education program has to be better than none, in my opinion, one of the drawbacks to the current “manditory education” programs is that NASBLA doesn’t require hands on. I believe that trying to teach proper boating without going on the water is as rediculous as it would be to try to teach SCUBA without going in the water. Theory is fine, but itrt isn’t everything. I once had a student tell me after an anchoring drill, “This exercise alone was worth the price of the class. My husband and I have been making much more work of it than was necessary.” ‘Nuff said.

  2. mike webster

    Show me a boat that is not used and enjoyed and I will show you a poor Dealer!
    “Orientation” is a good thing,whether new,used and no matter what type vessel or experience with previous vessels.

  3. David Black

    It is great idea. Our dealerhip always takes a new boat customer to a river and shows them the ins and out of every boat sold to them. It takes away some phone calls and ” free” questions and answer sessions that the service department would have to handle at a later date. It promotes safer boating and more economical boating. If you teach them how to be safe and not to damage their boat, you will be rewarded more than you can make on repairing their boat when the customer is referencing your dealerships name all of the time to potentail customers that want to get into boating or already have a boat.

  4. Nonnie Thompson

    I love this topic, but don’t hear enough chatter on it or see much action. Training is a brilliant idea for the safety of all boaters out there. From jet-skis to sailboats to mega-yachts, all boaters should be regularly trained and reminded that it’s an excitng sport vulnerable to unpredictable elements.

    Think safety, confidence, encouragement, but the truth is that if a dealer/instructor offers onboard instruction to a new owner, he/she may give that man/woman/couple the confidence they need to step, leap or dive into that boat purchase. The cost of such “lessons” will do little to hurt the bottom line of a sale, and may even MAKE the sale. Remember without a sale there is no bottom line.

  5. Anonymous Bob

    A scared boater is a boater that soon sells their boat and buys an RV. User education is fundamental to the retention of boaters. The easier a product is for a consumer to use, the greater the likelihood for its use. When friends of “Joe Boater” see how easy it is to load/unload the trailer, launch the boat, dock the boat, etc., the more likely those friends are to consider a boat purchase. The user education can be accomplished via group methods, or a “Boater 101″ type class. It doesn’t necessarily have to be 1-on-1 because of the expense involved. But, we definitely need to provide an operator’s course – not merely for our customer’s safety – but to continue the Customer Satisfaction demanded by our buyers.
    I applaud Legend Marine for their efforts and hope more dealers use this as a sales tool.

  6. Jim Battye

    On-water close-quarters training is fine, if the trainer is highly competent (most amateurs need not apply), and if the curriculum is up to snuff. Basic concepts of close-quarters boat control are subject to incredible “diversity” of advice that is, too often, one-size-fits-all.

    Is it “bow to wind for control,” or “stern to wind for control”?

    Do you treat current and wind the same, or differently?

    Supposedly authoritative sources of answers to these basic questions are all over the chart; and often, they are downright loony, if not flat-out dangerous. Good training is good substance taught step-by-step by a quality teacher; whether the discipline is flying a plane, or driving a boat. .

  7. Jim Battye

    By the way: Can a boating student really learn how to drive a boat by NOT driving the boat?

    In Tres Martin’s Performance Boat School’s website is this exchange, in the FAQ section:
    “Do I get to drive the boat?
    Answer: No, out liability insurance do not allow for student to drive at any time.”

    Imagine attending a performance driving school, and not being allowed to drive the car because of liability concerns. Would you infer that driving the boat is more dangerous than driving the race car? The insurance company seems to think so.


    Thank you for all the comments and support for skill based training. He ask all the dealers and manufacuters who offer our course as standard equipment to be recognized and awarded for thier leadership.

    Jim, The language on the web site needs to be updated. Students do not recieve certification until the demonstrate ability aboard thier boats. They must meet the minimum skill set requirements, due to named insured they can not drive our boats. They ride our boats for demonstration and then must demonstrate skill before becoming certified.

    I am concerned about having government or any legislative body becoming invloved with skill based training. I believe ther are too many precedents showing how government invlovement will lower the proficiency, so I remain this must be industry lead.

    We have also now expanded to include all boat types. We now have the ability to offer skill based training with boat type tailored learning objectives. From small runabouts to commerical craft.

    Brad Schoenwald

  9. dave boso

    We never let a customer leave with his new rig until we give him a ‘”shakedown cruise”(old Navy term) even the old boater, we want him to know how it works. We even put the 9.9s in the tank and show the customer how they operate.

  10. Jim Battye

    Brad, thank you for the clarification. So, you do a classroom segment and the on-water demo on your boat, then go aboard their boat for the hands-on segment where the student demonstrates skill sets learned. Your students, then, must have their own boat, to begin with.

    Government setting of minimum standards for boat handling skills is problematic. But, the private sector (like you and me) isn’t setting any standards, either. We have no trade group, per se. NMMA has no interest, even though I’ve trained some of their people.

    We all occupy our own little corners of the world. You have your course, a few others have theirs, and I have mine. By the way, government agencies around the country use my course to train their new employees in the basics of handling agency boats in close quarters. The National Safe Boating Council this program, and it is quickly becoming the standard for such agencies.

    Maybe you and I should meet, and see if we can move forward to develop pleasure boat training standards. Is it time for that?



    It may be time. We cannot wait for NASBLA and we are setting standards. All courses have terminal performance objectives and the insurance companies accept these standards. Unlike getting a U S Coast Guard License from a third party school we do not have a guaranteed pass policy. If a student cannot demonstrate minimum skill sets to the minimum acceptance level of the terminal performance objective they do not receive certification under the program.

    For now Tres and I are the only Instructors, we are looking for operators with the right skill sets but there is way too much at stake so for now he and I alone run these courses. Recorded experience means nothing, a license means nothing, the only acceptable reference is observation of performance to a pre-described standard.

  12. Jim Battye

    Speaking of on-water training…there are at least a few boat sales persons who will not demo the boats they sell, including the person who sold me my Regulator 26, and who admitted to me that she was uncomfortable handling a boat inside the marina. Not a great endorsement of how easy it is to drive a boat. Seems to me the people who sell ‘em should be at least as skilled as most of their customers.

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