Jacqui Sinclair knows all too well the panic-stricken feeling of trying to pull a lifejacket on when already in the water.
“When you’re out of breath and stressed, trying to figure out which way round it goes is incredibly challenging,” she says. “I thought I was fit but it’s a huge physical challenge to get it on so it fits properly and comfortably when you’re already wet.”
Fortunately for Jacqui, she wasn’t fighting for survival – just trying to pass her New Zealand Certificate in Domestic Maritime Operations (Level 4).
As part of the Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology course, Jacqui and her classmates had to swim multiple lengths of a pool and tread water for 10 minutes before attempting to pull their lifejackets on.
She says the experience enhanced her knowledge and appreciation of her own role as Safe Boating Officer for Tauranga’s Harbourmaster. “Now I fully understand why lifejackets work best if you’re already wearing them.”
A diverse range of students typically enrol in the course each year, which comprises 17 weeks of online tuition plus a five week block course at Toi Ohomai.
Students learn about navigation, tides, weather, sea survival, firefighting, first aid, electronic navigation, passage planning, emergency procedures, marine engineering and gain their Maritime Restricted Radio Operator’s Certificate. They must complete written and practical assessments on each topic to pass.
“The tutors are incredibly knowledgeable and it’s really hands-on which is a great way to learn,” Jacqui says. “They also help you apply to Maritime New Zealand for your restricted limits skipper licence at the end.”
Now that she’s graduated, Jacqui can skipper a vessel of up to 12m in length and carry up to 19 passengers out to a distance of 12 nautical miles off the coast.
“The online course gives you a good head start before you get into the classroom. I was most worried about the engineering section because it was all about motors, parts and subjects out of my comfort zone. But the online course explained it all, so by the time I got to the block course and assessment I felt more comfortable and wasn’t completely lost.”
Jacqui says learning to read the weather was another valuable skill she picked up. “Now I fully understand what I’m looking at, what’s coming at me and how to avoid it. It will make it a lot easier to plan trips.”
With her skipper’s licence now safely tucked inside her wallet, Jacqui feels incredibly proud to have completed her certificate. “It was a real challenge but it’s fabulous to have my ticket. This course will give anyone who is working in the commercial maritime industry a great deal of confidence.”