Each May, National Safe Boating Week serves as a reminder that the best way to have a great experience on the water every time you leave the dock is to know your boat and how to operate it safely. Brunswick Corporation®, the parent company of Mercury Marine, is an avid supporter of National Safe Boating Week and a proponent of educating all boaters about safe boating practices. This spring, Brunswick made the learning process easier by launching a hands-on training program called BoatClass® that is designed to give new and current boaters the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to succeed.
“The basic premise of BoatClass is to make learning to drive a boat safely easy and fun. It helps new boaters get started, and it also gives existing boaters the chance to improve their skills,” said Makura Compton, director of BoatClass.
Still in its pilot phase for spring and summer 2021, BoatClass currently is available at Freedom Boat Club® locations in Melbourne and Jacksonville, Florida. Freedom Boat Club is a division of Brunswick Corporation.
“It will be a phased approach through Labor Day,” Compton said. “The plan is to expand into 2022 and beyond.”
BoatClass instruction is provided by experienced U.S. Coast Guard-certified captains who are veterans of the Freedom Boat Club network.
“These are the best of the best that the industry has to offer,” Compton added. “They are knowledgeable and highly relatable.”
The BoatClass program is based on the proven training sessions that Freedom Boat Club has provided to all its new members for decades, yet BoatClass is open to the public regardless of club membership status. Registration is available at BoatClass.com.
BoatClass offers Basic and Intermediate courses. Each is three hours long and includes a short classroom session followed by intensive on-the-water training. There are never more than four students per boat for the Basic class and three per boat for the Intermediate class, ensuring that each student gets to spend plenty of time at the helm.
The Basic course trains boaters in the use of U.S. Coast Guard-mandated boat safety equipment, boat engine controls and operation, maneuvers such as 360- to 720-degree turns in open water, the Rules of the Road, speed zones, approaching a fuel dock, and docking. The class costs $149, however, participants may book additional seats for $50 apiece, making it affordable for couples and families to train together.
“It’s often a husband and wife, or a mom and dad and their grownup children, who will reserve the whole boat because they want everybody to know what’s going on,” said Capt. Mike Berry, BoatClass instructor at the Melbourne location.
The Intermediate course teaches more advanced techniques, such as proper boat trim, boat handling in close quarters, retrieving items from the water, setting and retrieving the anchor, beaching the boat, and advanced docking. The cost is $199 per seat, with additional seats available for $75 each.
“After taking the Basic class, we’ve found that many customers immediately will go online and sign up for the Intermediate class,” Compton said.
Capt. Tyler Barrus, BoatClass instructor at the Jacksonville location, reported that he has taught students who have recently purchased a boat and want to improve their skills at driving it, as well as some people who are considering buying a boat for the first time.
“Everybody has been thrilled with BoatClass. They’ve said, ‘That was exactly what I have been looking for,’” Barrus said.
As of mid-May, more than 200 boaters had already participated in one of the BoatClass training programs, and early results are positive. According to customer surveys, the average participant’s self-reported boating competency (defined as skills and confidence) level rose from 3 to 7 on a scale of 10 after he or she completed the course.
“BoatClass embodies what Safe Boating Week is all about,” Compton said.