Is the allure of learning to dr ive a boat enough to drag a recalcitrant teenager away from his iphone? MBY’S editor puts it to the test with the help of his son Ned
Editor Hugo’s son, Ned, gets his first taste of independent boating
Idon’t know if it’s the same with all teenagers but trying to get my 15-year-old son interested in anything that doesn’t involve food, a screen, a short skirt or a hard leather ball is next to impossible. It doesn’t help that during the school holidays he rarely emerges from his den until the sun has passed its zenith nor that his summer sport of choice is cricket, which seems to occupy every remaining hour of his waking day. This all conspires to push boating so low on his list of priorities that it hovers somewhere between showering (a worryingly rare occurrence) and being pleasant to his parents (never).
I have tried to point out that this is not conducive to a happy home life, at least not in our household, where boating isn’t just
an activity that we can enjoy together as a family but also puts threads on his ever-lengthening back, courtesy of my job editing MBY. Unfortunately, rational conversation seems to have very little effect on the teenage brain, presumably because neither rational thought nor conversation feature highly on any teenager’s agenda. In fact, conversation of any kind is usually restricted to a series of grunts conducted with eyes still firmly locked on the smartphone screen that rules his life.
If this seems a harsh assessment of my son and heir, Ned, I can only assume that it’s a parent thing. I’m told by others that he’s a charming boy who’s bright, chatty, talented at sport and brilliant with younger children. But only away from home, obvs.
If boating was ever going to penetrate the self-absorbed bubble of his teenage years, I came to the conclusion that some kind of enforced intervention would be necessary. Trying to teach him to drive a boat myself was clearly not an option, all previous attempts at paternal guidance being met with barely disguised contempt, but there was a slim chance he might listen to a professional instructor, particularly if he or she were young enough to be considered a kindred spirit. Some form of incentive usually helps too, either financial or better still something that can be boasted about on social media.
A bit of detective work revealed some promising leads; the RYA’S Power Boat Level 2 (PB2) training scheme is open to
anyone over the age of 12, although they won’t actually send you the certificate until you turn 16. The added incentive was originally going to be the opportunity to helm the family sportsboat this year so that he was ready to take it out on his own next summer, but a chance encounter with Honda’s marketing team enabled me to go one better. Keen to promote Honda’s youthful associations (it sponsors the RYA Youth RIB Challenge) and its partnership with aluminium RIB builder Highfield, their dealer Hendy Marine offered to loan Ned a 4.6m RIB of his own for two weeks, provided he passed his PB2.
When presented with this outrageously generous offer, I did detect a momentary flicker of interest before normal service resumed with a volley of Snapchat selfies to his mates. It was exactly the catalyst I needed to trigger my final deal-clincher. A quick ring around fellow school parents with salt in their veins and I’d lined up two of his classmates to join him on a PB2 course. With three reluctant teenagers to whip into shape I could now go looking for a suitable instructor/victim willing to take on the challenge...
BOYS AND THEIR TOYS
Having recently read Nick Burnham’s story on the new generation of boat clubs springing up around the UK, I decided to give the guys at Urban Truant a call. Not only do they run a number of Highfield Honda RIBS as part of a fast-growing boat share club based in Swanwick marina, but they also use them to teach a wide variety of RYA training courses. The fact that it is run by a couple of 40-something City boys who gave up the bright lights in favour of a south coast lifestyle sounded even more promising. I duly booked the boys in for a two-day PB2 course over the summer half-term, paying a little extra to secure an instructor all to themselves – it didn’t seem fair to inflict them on any other paying customers.
On the appointed day I delivered the three young desperados to Urban Truant to find that their instructor looked almost as young as them. In fact, 23-year-old Dom Andrews proved to be the perfect choice: young enough to join in the banter but old enough to command respect when needed. A bright, modern classroom and the promise of a pristine Highfield 760 RIB powered by a Honda BF250 to come was enough to hold their attention for the first hour of classwork covering safety, weather, sea state and tides. Then it was over to the boat for safety checks, paying particular attention to the kill cord, and getting to grips with the steering and throttle with some basic manoeuvres.
By the time I picked them up later that afternoon they were all buzzing. Dom had clearly worked his magic and some of the information about colregs and cardinal markers had clearly stuck, but most of all they were high on the adrenaline of helming such an impressive craft. Rather than nannying them through every manouevre Dom had asked them to use their own approach, only stepping in if there was any danger to crew or boat. Letting them fail and then helping them to figure out their own solution was clearly a far more effective approach than my usual ‘Dad knows best’ style of coaching.
Day two started the same way with an hour or so of chartwork, learning how to recognise the various marks, read lat and long, calculate depths and plot a course. Then it was back to the boat to put the theory into practice by plotting a course across the Solent with the added incentive of a fish and chips lunch in Cowes, if they got there safely. With each of them taking turns at the wheel while the others helped tick off the various waypoints and channel markers Dom managed to keep all of them engaged in the process. Things only got better after lunch as he taught them how to execute a safe high-speed turn before the serious business of recovering a man overboard with the aid of a weighted fender called Bob. Get this wrong and it would have been game over for Bob and their PB2 certificates, but still Dom managed to make it fun while ensuring all three of them got Bob safely back on board. A final hour back in the classroom going over everything they’d covered in the last two days and it was time for the moment of truth. Remarkably, all three had passed and while under no illusions about their relative inexperience, they were now qualified to skipper a boat on their own. Like it or not I would now have to deliver on the second part of my bribe.
Fast forward eight weeks and it was my turn to find out if Ned could remember everything he’d learnt. Steve Harrison at Hendy marine had just given me the keys to a brand new 4.6m Highfield, which looked far too nice to unleash my son on. Its sturdy aluminium hull and chunky inflatable tubes were a little too spotless for my liking and that 50hp engine suddenly seemed like a lot of power for a 15-year-old to take charge of. I had taken the precaution of speaking to my insurers MS Amlin and after a bit of negotiation managed to add the boat and Ned to my existing policy for an extra £112. The only stipulation was that for the first week I’d have to be on board with him, but for the second he was free to go it alone.
It’s a strange feeling to sit in the back seat of a boat while your progeny takes the helm for the first time, but to be fair to Ned
“Rather than nannying them through every manoeuvre , Dom asked them to work out their own approach and let them discover whether it worked or not “
he rose to the occasion. Dom’s efforts had not gone to waste and after a bit of familiarisation with the boat, he took to it like a duck to water. The Highfield proved to be the perfect boat for cutting his teeth on – small enough not to be intimidating but big enough to tackle a bit of sea and with sufficient performance (around 26 knots max) to excite without scaring the horses. The twin jockey seats and tall helm surrounded by grab rails combined a nice high viewpoint with plenty of things to hang onto. In short, I had run out of excuses to avoid cutting the apron strings, so with a final safety briefing and the added reassurance of an alarmed Lifecord to replace the standard kill cord, I waved him off on his first unaccompanied trip from Poole to Studland Bay. With one of his PB2 classmates sitting alongside him to share the responsibility, and a promise to stay in touch on Ch77, they fired up the engine and headed off.
INAUGURAL A DVENTURE
Half an hour later the VHF screeched into life with a clearly elated Ned on the other end. I’d shown him the basics but told him not to use it unless he got into trouble. “Bohemian Girl, Bohemian Girl, this is Highfield. We’ve arrived in Studland and got the anchor out. What do we tie it onto?”
I barely had time to respond that the bow cleat wouldn’t be a bad place to start when the suggestions started to fly in from listening boats. “I’d go for round your ankle if I were you,” chirped one wisecrack. “Round the neck would be quicker,” responded another. A little harsh perhaps, but a timely reminder that Ned still had a lot to learn, not least that VHF is an open channel rather than an encrypted social media post!
All the same, by the end of the holiday he’d clocked up 15 hours of helm time, much of it without any adults on board, and brought both himself and the boat back unscathed. Just as importantly he’d learnt a new skill, got a taste of independence and discovered the simple pleasure of going boating. He’d actively enjoyed the learning process and demonstrated the necessary responsibility to skipper a craft safely. Heck, he’d even got up at 8am on several occasions to make the most of the flat water and try his hand at waterskiing while I drove the Highfield. I can’t pretend it has cured his addiction to scram, screens and skirts but frankly I’d be a little worried if it had – at the age of 15 even a Highfield Honda can’t compete with a hormone high!
“He’d learn ta new skill, got a taste of independence and discovered the simple pleasure of going boating“
Dom runs through the all important safety checks on the powerful Highfield Honda Ned gets his first taste of high-speed handling while Tom and Archie try not to look anxious!
L E F T Urban Truant instructor Dom Andrews helps the boys get to grips with chartwork MIDDL E Explaining the difference between the various cardinal markers R IGHT Ned and Archie plot their route from Swanwick to Cowes
Ned takes the 4.6m Highfield on his first unaccompanied outing to Studland Bay
Tom, Ned and Archie celebrate passing their RYA Power Boat Level 2 training together