Training courses - who needs them?  asks Jim Marshall.

Jim Marshall explains why he believes in training!

I come from a Police and Army family and thus have a deep and abject hatred of authority, rules and committees. Maybe that’s why I have worked on the canals of Britain and the Continent all my life? In my teens our canals were a professional environment. Everyone knew the few rules, and, in any case, most of the boat people couldn’t have read them anyway. Middle class media people crept into a world they ‘discovered’, and today in Britain our canal system supports more boats than it was ever intended to.

Despite the little devil lurking in me that whispers, “let them blow themselves up or drown”, I attend meetings of British Waterways’ Boat Safety Scheme, and the Training Standards Panel of the National Community Boats Association. We make rules and award certificates. The variety of obtainable certificates is sufficient to allow a game of whist to be played with them. A new one will soon pop its head above the water and hint that you must have it to avoid an incident (something entirely different to an ‘accident’ – something invented by St. Pete and God when bored on the Heavenly Golf Links, and about which we can do nothing).

Much as I have hated the idea the idea of training, I now see people getting so much out of their boating because they understand what a propeller does to the water passing under a boat, how a lock fills, other users’ rights, or how to change an oil filter or gas bottle safely. Despite the Motorway Manners that some have brought with them, incidents are kept to a minimum.

‘Best practice’, ‘health and safety’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘training’ are the new buzzwords. Training is more necessary than ever in what has become the amateurs’ playground. Whether we are on our own boat, or a hire cruiser, or responsible for many people on a jolly, knowing what is happening all around us, and why, changes what was an alien environment into a safe and perfectly harmonious one. We are at home, and as one with our surroundings…eyeball to eyeball with the ducks.

Recently I listened to a youngster in a wheelchair (he had cerebral palsy) taking his Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award on a boat. He explained exactly the effect of the water from the prop on the rudder. … Training! I watched a group of homeless teenagers from Surrey leap from the boat to assist a dying man on a rural towpath. They instantly acted as a team, putting him in the recovery position, covering him with a blanket, summoning and directing an ambulance to a spot on a map. They saved his life…..Training!

At the Pirate Castle at Camden on the Regent’s Canal in London we have been training people to enjoy themselves safely on the water for 40 years. The late Viscount St. Davids lived close by and was our inspiration. His mission was to bring inner-city kids from the streets and give them a purpose on the canal. Robin Knox-Johnson and Prince Charles came along later to give us their blessings, lay the cornerstone of our Castle, and launch our residential boat – ‘Pirate Princess’.

Today our staff can train you for and award certificates from the British Canoe Union, and the Royal Yachting Association (The Inland Helmsman’s Certificate and the International Certificate of Competence). The most comprehensive certificates that we can ‘offer’ are those of the National Community Boats Association (we were founder members). These include their Certificate in Crew Competence (this can count as a GCSE), or the Certificate in Community Boat Management. These certificates are approved by British Waterways. We can arrange for candidates to be trained for and to take the Boatmaster’s Certificate (for those wishing to take more than 12 passengers on a boat).

How do we train, and how much does it cost? BCU Certificates should be discussed with our Centre Manager, Giles Higgitt. RYA Certificates are usually completed in the day and cost £95. If you are coming from a long way off we can often offer you a bunk bed on one of our community boats, and you could combine your visit with other London attractions. Camden Market is the Capital’s second most visited site. The NCBA Certificates are residential and intense. The CCBM is recognised and insisted upon by many local authorities for leaders/carers bringing groups on the water. It is the benchmark among boating certificates, and worth studying for, even if you have no interest in working with groups. It involves practical, hands-on work at the tiller, through locks and tunnels, etc. We will have sent you the course-book in advance for you to study at home. A maximum of 5 people (usually less) start to appear on a Friday evening (or Saturday morning,). After breakfast we move the boat and discuss the course-book modules together. We have four sessions like this, plus Saturday evening discussing the day’s work over a beer. We tend to finish at about 4 on the Sunday. Hopefully everyone will have a certificate, but it’s not guaranteed! In any case you will have learnt a lot, had some fun, and met some new people! We provide beds (not bedding), cooking/washing facilities, and tea/coffee/biscuits. Supermarkets, foodstalls and the restaurants of the world surround us. How, what and when we eat is usually a matter for yet more lively and important discussion. We also provide course-books, registration and certification. The fee for this course is £150 per person, but there is a reduction of £50 for any successful candidate who subsequently (within one year) hires “Pirate Princess” for a minimum of one night.

We can come to your boat if you prefer, or we can even Train the Trainers at your project, wherever that may be.

For more information, or simply a chat, please contact Giles Higgitt or Jim Marshall,
The Pirate Castle, Oval Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 7EA
Giles - 0207 267 6605/07831 209 709  


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