Sixteen Corps of Engineers employees participated in the Emergency Vessel Operators Course at Eufaula Lake Sept. 26-30.

This was the second time the expanded five day course was offered, the first was in July. In the past, the course was three days.

The training consisted of one day of classroom instruction, three days of field and on the water exercises, and one day of testing. Past iterations only had one day of field exercises.

"The newer version allows more hands on training than the old version," said Gary Simmons, lead instructor and park ranger at Fall River Lake. "We've tripled the amount of on the water training, which greatly increases the student's confidence because they get more time to practice."

Allowing students time to practice is key to their success, says Stacy Dunkin, course instructor and park ranger at Eufaula Lake.

"One of the biggest benefits is it gives the instructors time to focus on the skills needed. Just like any course, many students learn by repetition and in the older course we were rushed," he said. "That will help them go back the projects able to operate a vessel safely."

In addition to the addition of the two extra days of field and on the water instruction, students were required to pass a coast guard approved boating safety course prior to attending the class.

Also new this year was the requirement to complete a 100 yard swim while wearing a personal flotation device.

"The swim test was difficult, not only because the water was cold, but also because we had to wear shoes," said Jeff Walker, park ranger at Skiatook Lake. "The test was meant to be as realistic as possible and we had to wear shoes and clothing to simulate a situation where we fell into water."

During the classroom portion of the course, students learn about maintenance, the "rules of the road," navigation, required equipment, and fire suppression. During the on the water and field training they learn how to get the boat ready, preparing it for launch, launching, retrieval, and how to load the boat into the trailer. They also learn close quarter maneuvering, how to back a boat in and out of gates at slow speeds, various ways to approach another boat, towing another boat, and high speed maneuvers such as serpentines and collision avoidance.
Not everyone can master each skill and sometimes students have difficulty with certain parts of the course.

"One thing I like about the way we have it set up is if the student has a bad time with a certain skill and they don't pass it, they can go back to their project, practice with someone who is licensed and come back and test again on just that part within 60 days," Simmons said.

In addition to the 16 students, 10 instructors were present to make the course a success.

"This whole program is not a one or two person program," Simmons said. "The approach has been to delegate and have all the instructors involved in the program in some aspect. As a result, we have a lot of talent and ideas out there and they have come up with great ways to make the course efficient and successful."

The course is just as beneficial to the instructors as to the students.

"It's a great learning experience," he said. "On face value you don't realize how much work it takes to pull off an event like this course."

Simmons says that the goal of the course is to teach the students safety through safe boat operating skills, public safety through accident avoidance, and manpower and equipment protection.

"The public's eye tends to be focused more on you when operating a government vessel," Simmons said. "We must be confident and professional when operating and we are often called upon to do things that are not usually done when fishing or skiing such as setting buoys, search and rescue, and operating in adverse weather. This is why this course is so important for our employees."

Page last updated Wed October 19th, 2011 at 00:00