Dock Lines: Refreshing your skills for the New Year

Rather than make New Year’s resolutions you’ll quickly forget, why not decide to check out the myriad opportunities Southern California offers to refresh and update your maritime skills, whether sail or power?

Most boaters are aware of the basic boating classes taught by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (USCGA) and the United States Power Squadron (locally known as the San Diego Sail and Power Squadron), but did you know that both organizations offer additional courses beyond the basics? Most classes are held at yacht clubs, particularly Southwestern Yacht Club, which hosts both organizations’ classes in San Diego, and Oceanside Yacht Club. For a list of class subjects and schedules, visit or

In the South Bay it’s Chula Vista Marina that’s taken the lead in providing boater education, going well beyond basic classes. While this winter’s offerings include USCGA seminars on how to read a nautical chart, what to do if you’re suddenly in command of a vessel and how to navigate using both electronic and paper charts, the marina also provides ongoing boater education programs on Wednesday evenings and Friday and Saturday mornings throughout the year. They are open to all and presented free for marina tenants or for modest fees for materials and certifications, depending on the seminar.

Coming up this winter, in addition to USCGA curricula, are programs on celestial navigation, small engine repair, troubleshooting for small outboard motors and background on local nature and the history of San Diego’s South Bay, much of which is designated as nature reserve. The marina also plans a five-week deep-dive into weather issues, ideal for mariners planning long cruises. 

I discovered Chula Vista Marina’s extensive educational programs by chance, when I saw a listing in The Log’s calendar section for their program on waterproofing your boat before El Niño. Curious, I called the marina (619-691-1860) and learned that non-tenants are welcome to attend their seminars for a $10 fee. At the session, conducted by knowledgeable, experienced instructor Don Johnson, I gained a wealth of knowledge about repairing leaks and selecting appropriate caulking materials. I also enjoyed exchanging experiences with fellow boaters who shared their solutions for pesky maintenance problems.

Chula Vista Dockmaster Mike Sullivan’s program goals extend beyond boater education. He’s building a community and network of mariners with common interests who can share their boating enthusiasm and widely ranging expertise.

“In the marina office we get to meet everybody. We see new boat owners and need to help teach them how to use their boat,” said Sullivan. “We teach people about operating their boat and maintaining it.” 

During seminars, boaters meet others who contribute advice and recommendations about services, products and suppliers and hear from neighbors who are preparing to depart for or just returned from adventures at sea.

Boat show seminars also provide opportunities to learn about changing technologies and cruising destinations. At the upcoming San Diego Sunroad Boat Show, Pat Rains’ seminars will focus on updated Mexican entry requirements and nautical destinations in Baja and the Sea of Cortez. Other sessions will examine electric boat options, power management and the “green” sailor, high-speed marine Internet service and non-skid decking options.

Another choice for serious boaters wanting to enhance their seamanship is taking an 80-hour USCG captain’s license preparation course, offered throughout California and online by San Diego’s Maritime Institute ( You’ll appreciate the knowledge you’ve gained, whether or not you’re interested in becoming a licensed captain. 

With so many local opportunities available, there’s every incentive to enhance your boating knowledge.

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