Madison Fantozzi and Stephan Useche// FIUSM Staff
Biscayne Bay Campus serves as the prime location for the Motorboat Operator Certification Course that is offered to both novice and amateur boaters.
The course has been offered for 12 years and is necessary for researchers to drive and assist in operations on a boat. Becoming MOCC qualified allows students to drive motor boat vessels for state and federal programs and agencies, schools and universities.
MOCC is a two-week course, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. divided into theory and practice.
With an average of six students per class, the course offers plenty of one-on-one time and hands-on experience. On-water exercises are performed with three students per instructor.
“When students get through with this course, they will have the confidence to take command,” said Captain Robert Weisman, FIU boating safety officer and instructor of the MOCC course.
Weisman teaches the course alongside BBC Marine Operations Manager Captain Bill Chamberlain.
According to Weisman, 78 percent of students pass the course.
The students’ final examination consists of three components: a trailer exercise, a boating exercise and a written test.
Before the students can get out on the water, they must undergo a checklist of preparation and procedures.
“There have been cases where students forgot to put in the boat plug and the boat sank at the dock,” Weisman said.
Weisman said patience and decision-making skills are important to be a good crew chief.
“If the weather changes quickly, you have to be able to make that decision to come in and wait for another day,” Weisman said.
The second part of the exam is an on-the-water practical.
“We used to drive to U.S. 1 and 163rd Avenue and have to navigate through all the traffic,” said Weissman. “We would go to the public boat ramp that is very popular.”
BBC is now the home of MOCC’s boat yard and a boat ramp that it shares with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Once on the water, the students undergo simulated scenarios to test their boating and safety skills. These include maneuvering through five buoys in a star-shaped formation, rescuing a dummy and performing CPR and successfully avoiding unexpected obstacles in the boat’s path.
The course appropriately named the dummy Wilson, after the volleyball that becomes Tom Hanks’ beloved companion in “Cast Away.”
“We have to pretend that this is a person who fell overboard,” said Sara Jarossy, a student at Nova Southeastern University who works with the U.S. Geological Survey. “As we are driving, Bob will throw the dummy over the boat and we have to notice.”
The students have to retrieve the dummy from the water and perform CPR while the driver of the boat calls for help and drives to the dock.
Another component of the exam tests the student’s driving and teamworking skills. One student maneuvers a truck, trailer and boat through a “cones course” and another student “spots” the driver.
“If someone is used to driving a VW Bug, putting them behind the wheel of a truck, a trailer and a boat can be quite intimidating,” said Weisman.
Alex Carreno, MOCC instructor trainer said he explains what he expects and wants students to recognize and fix problems themselves.
“If he hits a cone, that’s where I’ll step in and say ‘Hey, you hit the cone. Stop and do it over again,’” said Carreno. “But other than that, I can’t tell him how to do it because he should know at this point.”
The students need motorboat operator certification in their current jobs and for future careers.
MOCC student Kelscy Chambers works with USGS and the University of Florida.
“Right now we rely on other people [to drive the boats], but we want to become self-reliant,” Chambers said. “I am taking this course because I am going to be driving airboats and conducting bird surveys in the Everglades.”
MOCC student Daniel Vega is an FIU sophomore and served four years in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I am taking this course so I can be able to take scientific researchers out on boats and take them diving to do their research,” Vega said.
The course is currently offered free-of-charge, but does not offer a commercial license or college credit.
In order for MOCC to be a three-credit course, it would have to be proposed to The Office of Academic Affairs and reviewed and approved by academic boards. Weisman said this would take about a year.
“The course is for people to do their jobs and to do it safely,” said Weisman.