Ask a trainee skipper

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to skipper a boat for a living? This year two of our crew members are carrying out training to become skippers on ChesterBoat’s fleet of sightseeing and party boats. So we asked one of them what it’s like to train as a skipper.

Lisa has been part of the team for three years and hopes to take the wheel after completing her boatmasters’ licence in July.

What experience do you need to have to become a skipper?

I had a go steering a boat on the Norfolk Broads when I was 5(!), but that was about it until I started working on the river in Chester. Working with people is another essential skill. I’ve worked as a holiday rep, so I am used to meeting lots of people from around the world, and it’s one of my favourite parts of the job. Rope work is another essential skill, and of course boat handling which I have learned during my time at ChesterBoat.

What do you like about working at ChesterBoat?

I love being outdoors and seeing all the wildlife on the river – there are ducklings, goslings and cygnets about at the moment which is nice to see. There’s something inspirational about seeing new life on the River and nature doing ‘it’s thing!’. I like sharing the river experience with our guests because being on the water is really relaxing, especially upstream of the city towards Aldford Iron Bridge where it’s really tranquil. It’s also fun working on the Party Nights Afloat and having a laugh with everyone onboard – 80s Pop Party is my favourite.

What’s it like skippering a boat?

Landing is the hard part. You need to think about the wind, flow and tide (yes, there’s a tide on the Dee!), and how that will affect the movement of the boat, so no two landings are exactly the same. In the summer there’s a lot of traffic on the river as well – rowing boats, pedalos, kayaks and other powered vessels – even dogs swimming along the Meadows. You need to be aware of your environment and what is going on around the boat, as well as being responsible for everyone onboard of course.

How do you prepare for your boatmasters’ test?

Lots of practice! I spend as much time as possible at the wheel to get a feel for how the boat handles. We need to know the rules of the ‘road’ – the Collision Regulations which apply to ships everywhere, and the local byelaws which just apply to the River Dee. As the main authority on a boat, the skipper needs to understand the boat mechanically and be familiar with its safety features and emergency procedures. We also need to know the river, for example it’s depth in different spots, and which places we could land safely in an emergency.

Once we’re ready, an examiner from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will visit us to check that we know our stuff – not that different from doing your car driving test really. I’m looking forward to welcoming passengers aboard as a skipper. After two seasons as a crewmember, becoming a skipper is an exciting new challenge.

Once you become a skipper, will you be able to perform a marriage?

Sadly not, but we do host wedding receptions onboard. It’s always a privilege to share that experience with the wedding party.

What do you like to do on a day off?

Spend the afternoon watching the animals at Chester Zoo with my family.

Favourite song?

“Proud Mary” by Tina Turner

Favourite movie?

The Goonies

Our trainer skippers will take their test I’m July. Good luck in your test, Lisa! Watch this space…