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Read this informative article which appeared in The Mariner newspaper, June 15, 2007: Teaching Boaters to Boat (pdf)

Teaching Boaters to Boat


It's your new boat. Maybe it's your first boat. Maybe you've upgraded from a runabout to a cruiser.

You have questions. You wonder if you'll be able to work those twin engines to get that big boat back into that tiny slip in a brisk wind. The new marine radio is sitting in the box and you'd like to install it, but even thinking of the task is overwhelming.And that marine head. You've read the instructions, but you're still walking to the marina's restrooms.

What you need is some boating knowledge and confidence.

You can get both from Greg Letsch at First Captains Boating Services.

"My business is predicated upon teaching boaters to boat and how to repair their boats," Letsch explained.

Education is the foundation of his business and Letsch said that is what makes First Captains unique.

"It's all instructional services," he said. This includes everything from learning how to operate a vessel to accomplishing minor maintenance and repair chores.

First Captains recently celebrated its first anniversary.Letsch said his concept has been well-received by the region's boating community.

"It was good the first year," he said. "This year is going to be excellent."

Letsch has been messing with boats for years.

"I've had 17 boats in my time," he said. "Being around boats and around the water, I saw that people who were taking delivery of boats were scared to death. They don't understand the workings of items on vessels. People don't know how to work the electronics; electrical, plumbing."

"I realized there would be value in helping people in being con­fident in their purchase," Letsch said.

He believes the boating industry is going in the right direction by adopting customer service indexes, but said that in the area of customer education, "I feel the marine industry is 10 to 15 years behind the automotive industry."

Letsch is ready to dive into boating education in any aspect required by the customer.

"I take the client from A to Z," he said.

This can begin with what he calls "Boating 101." Letsch comes to the customer, climbing aboard to explain the equipment on the boat and how things operate: He will even accompany boaters on their maiden voyage. And he will stay until he is sure the boat owner and family members are sure about the boat and its equipment.

"I will not leave," Letsch said. "I'm packing a bag and will stay until you are comfortable .... I've only had to stay over one time."

"Most people fear running into something and busting up the boat," Letsch said. He has ways to teaching them to dock, to use the reverse, or to maneuver with sing1e or twin engines.

"You do things in moderation when you are docking the boat," he explained.

"I use the term, 'baby steps,"' he said, explaining that skippers need to use light touches on the throttle to achieve slow, steady movement of the boat.

As for_ learning to handle the throttles for twin engines, Letsch takes them back to their toddler days. He tells them to imagine they are on a tricycle making a right turn. Think of how the handle bars are turned and those are the same positions the throttles should be in to accomplish the desired maneuver.

"I remind them by saying, 'ride the bike," he said.

As he orients the main captain with the operations of the vessel, Letsch said he wants a larger audience."When I do an instructional session, I want the whole family there because they're part of the fun," he said. "We make everyone participate."

Installation, maintenance, and repairs are also part of First Captains Boating Services.

Whether it is installing electronic gear, detailing the vessel, fiberglass repair, or winterizing, Letsch wants to involve the boat owner and the entire family.

"They are learning and they are building confidence," he said. "I show them how to do an oil change, how to change a thermostat.

In fact, the boat owner is his assistant in these endeavors. The owner participation keeps his hourly rates low, Letsch said.

"I work at half of what would be a nominal fee for a marina," Letsch said. If the boat owner wants to be absent while the work is being done, Letsch will still take the job, but the rate goes up.

He prefers to keep with First Captains dedication to teaching boaters.

Not only do we install it, we teach you," he said. "You are saving money and you are learning."

As for engine work, First Captains will help owners tackle zinc and propeller replacement, engine and outdrive preventive maintenance, winterization and other minor repairs.

"I'm the backyard mechanic," he said.

Other services include: trailering and launching, docking, safety checks, basic navigation, emergency procedure, electronics education, using power trim and trim tabs to improve the boat's performance, anchoring and rafting, weather considerations, cleaning and detailing, bottom prep and painting, fiberglass and gel coat work, trailer repair, custom woodwork (particularly interiors), power and water systems, plumbing and sanitation, and purchase consultations.

Letsch travels from New Jersey to Virginia, Letsch towing a trailer equipped with the tools and parts he needs for his work. As he planned First Captains, Letsch prepared by working for Stan Wisnowski and Ron Lowe at Arundel Lift Truck.

"They gave me the experience to go out alone on a truck," Letsch said. But, he is not always alone. His wife, Mary, assists him with some jobs.

Letsch obtained his captain's license. He is a divemaster, which allows him to do underwater work.

"I also carry my own insurance," he said.

"The biggest asset that I have to offer clients is confidence," Letsch said, adding that knowing how a boat works and making the entire family familiar with operation of the vessel adds to the fun of boating.

"With boating, you can't put a price on those memories," Letsch said.

First Captains Boating Service can be reached at 410-808-2137.


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