New Safe Powerboating Classes at New England Science & Sailing

By Caroline Knowles

Safe Powerboating ClassesWho taught you to drive a car? I have both fond and frightening memories of learning to drive my parents’ car: merging onto I-95 for the first time, taking an extra lap around the two-lane rotary as I tried to get out of the inside lane to exit, and white-knuckling the wheel as I parallel parked uphill during the practical portion of my driver’s license test. Now think about getting your recreational boating certificate (the boating version of a driver’s license).

As a US Safe Powerboating certified Powerboat Training Center, NESS offers group classes for all abilities, ages 12 and older, as well as private lessons.  © Caroline Knowles/

If you are not familiar with the process, you take an 8-hour classroom-based course, pass a written exam, then get your safe boating certificate.

Many boaters learn the hands-on skills of boating by experience from friends or family members. But some may feel like they need some more hands-on experience to get comfortable navigating, docking, and driving a boat. That’s where the New England Science & Sailing Foundation (known as NESS for short) comes in. Think of this ocean adventure nonprofit, which is located in Stonington, CT, more as a driving school than a DMV. While NESS has offered powerboating courses and lessons the last four years, this year we, with our team of USCG licensed captains, are dramatically expanding our on-the-water powerboating offerings for everyone age 12 and up.

With the rapid approach of summer and many new boaters hitting the water for the first time, it’s a great time of year to review what’s legally required for recreational boaters.

What kind of certificate do I need as a recreational boater?

It varies slightly state by state, but in Connecticut, all recreational boaters (that includes sailboats over 19.5 feet without an engine and any size sailboat with an engine!) are required to have a boater’s certificate. The state of Connecticut has two types of boating certificates: a Safe Boating Certificate (SBC) and a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation (CPWO). The SBC limits the operator to boats only, while the CPWO is for both boats and jet skis. Thinking about tubing or waterskiing? To legally tow a tube or water skier, the boat operator must be 16 years of age or older and possess a Safe Waterskiing Endorsement.

To qualify for a CT Boating Certificate, you need to attend a CT DEEP (Department of Energy & Environmental Protection) approved Safe Boating and Personal Watercraft course and pass the required exam. As of February, NESS offers the 8-hour course that qualifies you for your Safe Boating/Personal Watercraft Certificate and the Safe Waterskiing Endorsement. Once you complete this course at NESS and pass the exam, you can go online and print out your boating certificate (there is a fee for printing your certificate). New this year, NESS is offering an optional extension of the classroom course where students can put their practical knowledge to use and practice their skills aboard one of NESS’s outboard powerboats.

You can also receive your CT Boating Certificate through one of NESS’s Powerboat Safe Handling courses. This 16-hour, hands-on course is for anyone who needs their state boating license and wants to learn how to safely operate a small powerboat and improve their boat handling skills. The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) have approved this course as both a State and US Powerboat Certification course. Classroom topics include boating safety, aids to navigation, and Rules of the Road. On the water drills will focus on close quarters boat handling such as docking, pivot turns, and backing up.

How do I get my Safe Boating Certificate?

In Connecticut, an organization must be approved by the CT DEEP to offer a state certificate course. NESS is one of the only organizations in the state that offers state certification and boat handling experience.

NESS’s April Courses include:

April 16-19: US Sailing Level 1 Practice Course (This is not a state licensing course, but great for aspiring sailing instructors!)

April 16 & 17: US Powerboating Safe Powerboat Handling Course

April 18 & 19: US Powerboating Safe Powerboat Handling Course

April 20: State of CT Safe Boat Certificate/Certificate of Personal Watercraft

All classes take place at NESS’s waterfront facility on Stonington Harbor. Please visit for more information and registration.

What do I need on my boat?

As you take the shrink wrap or canvas cover off your boat this spring, double check that your safety items are in good shape. Visit the CT DEEP boating website for a complete list of required items, as some items vary depending on the length of your vessel.


State Boating Certificate

Original Boat Registration

Personal Flotation Devices

Fire Extinguisher (must state “Coast Guard Approved”)

Visual Distress Signals

Sound Producing Devices

Backfire Flame Arrestors (inboard engines only)

Proper ventilation of enclosed engine and fuel tank compartments

Navigation Lights


VHF radio

Float Plan

First Aid Kit

Anchor & Rode

Local Chart

Local Emergency Numbers

Knife or Other Line Cutting Tool

Other things to think about

I asked NESS’s Director of Operations, Ben Yanni, if he had any advice for boaters this summer. “Knowledge is the key to a successful (and safe!) day on the water,” he said. “Things to ‘Know Before You Go:’ know your engine, know your boat and equipment, know the local navigational hazards and charts, know your local experts, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Have you just purchased a new powerboat and want to familiarize yourself with the new systems? NESS also offers private lessons. A NESS USCG licensed Captain will come to you so that you can get hands-on practice on your own boat!

Caroline Knowles is Marketing Coordinator at the New England Science & Sailing Foundation. She grew up sailing in Buzzards Bay and now explores Long Island Sound by boat.