Monday, January 8, 2018

My First Shot At The USCG OUPV 6 Pack Captain's License Exam

Ever since we started our on board life, I've wanted to get my U.S. Coast Guard approved, bonafide Captain's license. I've never had any professional vessel operating aspirations, but I saw it as me earning a diploma of sorts. It would be a validation of the effort and diligence I always put into being the traditional, not-quite-so-bonafide captain of Why Knot.

Let me explain that last part. It's all about tradition and, I guess, a little bit of legalese.

At this moment (1/7/2018, after I took the OUPV exam) I am not a licensed Captain. I have to still pass the test. But I am a skipper; I've been the operator of a boat. I've also been a traditional captain; in my case, I've been the operator of my own vessel, Why Knot. I'm not sure if I were the operator of some other vessel not for hire if I'd be a traditional captain or not, but I'd still be a skipper. Regardless, I've been working towards getting my U.S. Coast Guard issued OUPV Captains License for most of 2017.

To do this I've used the study program by an outfit called Mariners Learning System. I was introduced to them at the Annapolis Powerboat Show a couple of years ago. It was mostly online study which is something that I do well with. It seemed like a good way to go. Now, I didn't have to start the course immediately. However, when I activated the account, I had twelve months to complete the curriculum and take the tests in their system. I could take each of the four license test modules up to three times for the original price. After that first twelve months, extensions can be purchased for a modest sum. But one could only take the module exams up to three times without having to start the whole process over again. I activated the system on March, 8, 2017 which meant I had until March 8, 2018 to do the curriculum and PASS the exam modules.

[Note: One of MLS's selling points is that they are the only U.S.C.G authorized testing company. This enables them to compose the tests and sanction exam dates and locations. In other words, they can do testing on behalf of the Coast Guard. MLS says they are the only organization like this. I guess other license schools prep you and then send you to take the Coast Guard proctored exams in one of their regional exam centers. But this is an important distinction.]

Before I go on further, let me ask the question everyone has – how hard is the exam? It's hard. There's a lot of material, it's very technical, and you have to be able to parse very nuanced choices to select the correct multiple choice answer. You can't go in there thinking that the correct answer will somehow stand out. The Coast Guard wants the exam to weed out pretenders more than validating winners. In other words, the exam is designed to get people to fail.

Anyway, my first test day came on January 7, 2018, in Denver. More precise, in my home community, Lakewood, Colorado. How convenient. I showed up and was surprised to see that there was only one other candidate there to take the test. So be it. The proctor is a local captain himself.

The exam itself is in four modules. They are Plotting [ten questions, actually working with a chart they supply.], Navigation [20 questions], Rules of the Road [30 questions], and Deck General [60 questions]. To pass the exam one has to get at least at 70% grade on Plotting, Navigation, and Deck General, which I did with some margin to spare. But on Rules of the Road, you have to get a score of 90% or better. That one was a challenge.

Shipmates, if you're thinking that any test on the Rules of the Road couldn't be more difficult than who the stand-on and give-way vessels are in a crossing situation, you would be sadly mistaken. You have to know all about the ships' lights [Are they a NUC, Constrained by Draft, or Pilot? What lights would different tows have according to their length?], you powerboaters need to know the rules for sailing vessels, and much more. It was hard.


The bottom line was that I did not pass that module the first time. I got an 80%.

I had two options what to do next. The next testing opportunity in Colorado is in February and that would be all there would be here for several months. I had only two more times to take the test for that last module before the March 8th expiration date. I did something MLS says is not such a good idea; I decided to take the test for that module a second time then and there. I figured if I failed I still had the test opportunity available to me in February. If I passed, all the better.

The second test had different questions than the first, but they seemed more familiar to me. It flowed better. But I did do something I know for sure I shouldn't have done. I second guessed myself on the answer to one question and changed my answer.

And guess what my score was? 86.6% I got one question wrong. Damn it! And remember that question I changed my answer on? I had it right the first time. Damn it! Damn it! One stinking question!

So, It'll my last shot at getting at least a 90% on the Rules of the Road module test in February in Boulder, Colorado.

One stinking question.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Is Going To Be a Great Year!

Yay! 2017 is over! The curse of the perpetual shore leave has been vanquished.

We are so happy to have flipped the calendar page to 2018. What a pain in the butt it has been. First, our house out here in Denver was heavily damaged by a freak hailstorm with baseball size hail. We had to go through contractor hell to get it fixed. (FYI, our insurance company, American Family, performed well. No problems with them. But those damn contractors...) Lisa then needed medical attention, and that glued us to Denver for the last quarter of the year. (Everything went well with her. And for those in the know, this had nothing to do with what she went through in 2015.) To finish up the year, we drove back to St. Louis to see sons Bryan and Kevin and their assorted broods. It was nice but cold, cold, cold.

As I write this on 1/3/2018, we are back in Denver so that Lisa can start her tax preparation work. She'll wrap that up at the end of March. We'll then put on a full court press to get down to the boat mid-April-ish to start our 2018 boating season. And just like we had planned last year, we are heading up the coast to start our Why Knot Great Lakes Grand Tour. It's a four or five-year mission to explore the Great Lakes that we're very excited about. More details coming soon.

But there's a new layer of interest for this season. That's a new endeavor I'm starting. It's an expansion of the On Board Life Youtube channel that I've been posting to for several years. I've been making videos seriously, but they've never really found an audience. Part of that is because I neglected the search engine optimization aspects of Youtube publishing. But another point is that I hadn't focused on what I was producing. They were, for all intents, a video library of our adventures; they were our record of our accomplishments. They were fun, and I kept them short so people wouldn't have to sit through endless scenes of waves and gulls, or images of what we ate. People who watched them liked them. But I thought I could do more.

I did.

The new The On Board Life Youtube channel is dedicated to newbie and wannabee boaters who dream of getting out on the water themselves. I think I have some things to say to them that will help them find their way onto the deck of their own boat and out onto the water. But the videos are going to be different than most of the videos on the subject. They're going to be shorter: four to five minutes max. And they're going to be formatted in a way that is popular and most effective on YouTube. You'll see what I mean as the videos come out. I know I can commit to publishing a video twice a month without breaking a sweat. I'll then publish more videos more frequently as we get underway.

I think they are going to be unique in the realm of liveaboard boating videos. And what kind of content will they have? Well, you're just going to have to subscribe to the channel to find out.

The first video, Liveaboard Boating – 5 Reasons Why Liveaboard Boating Is Awesome! is up and ready for you to watch. 

Thank you in advance for your support. Please, like, share, subscribe and comment.

Here are my contact links.
The On Board Life YouTube channel
Facebook – Skipper Darrell
The On Board Life Blog

Twitter – @skipperdarrell