Steady & safely – Boat Handling Course

Kingston and Elmbridge BSAC are very fortunate (although I think Graham our Treasurer will disagree on the fortunate part) to have two fully operational and seaworthy dive ribs and anyone who has been on a rib dive will know just how much fun they can be. Why dive in cold water with poor visibility when you can blast over the waves at around 22 knots with six passengers clinging for their lives to the tubes? Having just completed my Boat Handling Course with the South East Region at Newhaven I know what I would rather be doing.


I have been on several weekend rib diving trips and love them, the main benefit for me is that for some strange reason I never get seasick on a rib and I love the adrenaline rush of powering and bouncing over to a dive sight at the speed of light unless of course it’s foggy or you run aground, Brian remember Portland?!

However, despite their lack of use it is amazing how possessive people get of the club ribs once out on the water. Without fail I beg and plead every Cox’n for a chance at the helm and am generally knocked back for not been qualified, although everyone falling into the bottom of the boat praying hasn’t helped my seamanship quest much either. So having successfully completed my marine radio course I embarked on some boat handling. Now the likes of Chris Drewett will have no reason to turn me down, be afraid Chris very afraid…

The course was held over two days down at Newhaven which meant like anything else dive related an early start. Dave Beadling (who was instructing and doesn’t take bribes) had kindly agreed to tow the rib with some help from able seaman Andy. Tony and myself met them, a bit bleary eyed, in the car park of the Marina where we quickly had a look around the boat and checked it’s condition over. I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at or for really, but I sounded keen and enthusiastic secretly hoping that by the end of the course it wouldn’t just be a glorified orange lilo with an engine anymore.

The course begins with some classroom work and with steaming cups of tea and plenty of biscuits available we settled down whilst Dave and Steve (also not open to bribes) went through some basic boating knowledge, various hull types, safety on the road whilst towing, simple maintenance and essential equipment such as flags, first aid and flares. Great, I thought when they actually passed the flares around the classroom; we get to send up a flare as well, this is definitely the kind of メhands-onモ course I like. Disappointingly though I had to hand the flare back unburned.

We were then divided into small groups and started a brief exercise on dive planning which included weather reports, tide charts, hazards etc and I have to say that will definitely be my next course. Jeff our tough and trusty BSAC instructor spent a lot of time explaining tides, how to work out distances and estimated times to various dive sites, springs and neaps, highs and slacks and not only was it very enjoyable, I felt really good suddenly being able to read and plot charts properly. The competition is now very stiff all you possessive Kingston & Elmbridge Cox’ns !!

Having hurried down my packed lunch whilst trying to squeeze into my wetsuit, we proceeded to launch and load the rib under Jeff and Dave’s instruction. Ummm two instructors on our boat, had they heard about my driving skills I wondered? Chris Chappell, having told the whole club I reversed into a wall at Portland, may have some answering to do and his shiny new teeth flashed briefly across my mind, perhaps whilst I am practising throwing an anchor!.

Dave took us メsteady and safely, steady and safelyモ (saying of the weekend) out of the busy marina towards the harbour entrance where we deliberated whether the lights were green or red and it wasn’t until we saw a massive cargo ship approaching that the unanimous decision was made. We sought sanctuary in a siding and commenced our figure of 8’s, reversing and メcoming along sideモ manoeuvring skills and it has to be said, I gave the guys a run for their money.

With the basic control stuff out of the way it was then out to open seas where we were shown exactly what these boats are capable of! Dad, I want one. Jeff spent time showing us how to look for the troughs between the waves and how to hop over the crests giving a smooth, safe ride for your divers. I on the other hand favour shouting メsecureモ (giving my passengers at least some warning) before just bouncing over the waves like a demon at 22 knots. Fan’bluddy’tastic!! Dad, I think I need two.

We arrived メsteady and safelyモ with me at the helm, back at the marina late afternoon where we had a quick briefing, secured the boat and headed home in time for our club chairman’s 50th birthday party.
No bleary eyes on Sunday morning, I couldn’t wait for day two and the opportunity to get back at the helm!! We concluded our voyage planning and other classroom work before heading back to the marina, where my orange lilo had suddenly turned into a master power boat with a 90 horsepower, two stroke engine and boy did I feel like stroking that engine!

Sunday morning’s tasks were a bit trickier and メthe boysモ Andy, Tony and Mark (a secret stowaway from another university club) had the slight edge on me at parking. Chris Chappell is dead, he must have spread the word about my parking skills as well. After plenty of practice and to Jeff’s relief, I finally mastered the art and was able to come along side any dock or pontoon like a true professional and we finally headed out to sea to practice our メman over boardモ skills.

Now if you happened to lose someone over board you would immediately think that recovery was fairly simple, turn the boat around, drive back and pick them up but there is a lot more involved as I found out. Yes, you turn round but only after you have sped away at a precise 45シ angle, done a wide full circle behind them, ensuring you approach the poor victim into the wind, remembering to slow and cut the engine before plucking them out of the water with the boat hook (only kidding Jeff), the whole procedure to be carried out calmly whilst everyone else on board stands, shouts and points. Yeah right.

Practice showed that getting a 45シ angle is pretty tough particularly for someone like me who would need a protractor to recognise 45シ and when turning and circling at high speed those passengers that are stupidly standing, shouting and pointing suddenly become overboard victims themselves as I nearly learnt to my cost. Jeff keen to show us correctly how to rescue a marker buoy (which was obviously drowning and in distress), told us to continually point at the drowning buoy whilst he executed the recovery, turning the boat sharply and very, very fast by which time I was on the floor of the boat hanging on for dear life and pointing at the sky. To be perfectly honest, I was scared stiff of being flung overboard and didn’t care where the hell I was pointing, let the buoy drown.

Needless to say with so much to think about and remember, recovery was not going to be easy. My nerves and confidence being further shattered by those supportive friends on board who assisted in the buoys demise by heckling and shouting メyour not pottering around Dorothy Perkins, that buoy is drowningモ. It was almost a relief to finally end the misery of the buoy with the prop. The ever patient Jeff, after initially rolling around laughing, did offer some support and expertise, when finally I could have plucked a cork safely from a force 10 storm with one arm tied behind my back, well perhaps not quite !

We all nipped back to the Marina for a very quick lunch before getting back out to practice, knots and various forms of towing, anchors and shot lines. All tricky little tasks that felt good when mastered, although I was beginning to curse Jeff when I had to throw and haul back the anchor at least ten times, yep they are as heavy as they look and ever get the feeling you are being picked on?
We then spent what little time we had left on the water, practising all our new skills and basically just throwing the boat around before heading back to the marina and the pub for a briefing.

Joking aside, I have to say it was the most fun packed weekend I have had in a long time. The course was very well run and the instructors organised, competent and very friendly and if there are any members out there arranging rib diving weekends, please ask some of us newly qualified boat handlers to help with the boats, we are very keen and now very competent! All you possessive old sea dogs move over and let some of us practice our new found skills!