How long should it take for a training mate to learn how to operate the vessel

I’ve been assigned to a vessel as a training mate. I’m about as green as can be but I wake up every time the boat moves so that I can observe and possibly take the wheel for some hands on training my question is how long should it take on average for a guy to get the hang of it it’s been 2 weeks and the captain training me seems to about had it

You’re probably annoying the crap out of him waking up and standing over his shoulder constantly. Just get up for your watch a little early, ask questions, and stay up a little late if anything is going on.


This is an impossible question without defining “operate the vessel” and “get the hang of it”. The answer ranges from a couple of weeks to several lifetimes. It is also highly dependent on your level of aptitude (though mostly for the first few years) and how hungry you are (which seems to be plenty).

Also, good advice above.

This advice won’t help but you should have been watching like a hawk from day one. On deck handling lines on a boat the sound of the engines clutching in and out, the revs can be heard, prop wash seen. Certainly the way the boat is moving can be observed.


What type of vessel and what does it do?

Also, are you green to the entire industry, green to boats in general, or just this particular one/type?

All of that (among many other personal traits) would be a factor in determining “how long it should take.”

Everybody is different, situations vary. In keeping with the vagueness of your question, about as long as it’s going to take for you to become proficient. Don’t let a single grumpy individual push you off course. If he’s a professional, he’ll treat you fairly and set parameters that suit you both.

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I appreciate your input. Im not trying to bash the guy he started out nice and understanding but fast forward 2 weeks and he’s telling me if I can’t walk the boat by now it’s hopeless to continue I personally felt like it should take longer than 2 weeks to learn especially since I never been on a crew boat before or ran one I’ve only had my licence for a couple months

It’s still difficult to say, because we have no idea of how many times the captain gave you an opportunity to “walk the boat” in those two weeks: twice, or twenty times? Also, I’m assuming that what you mean by “walking the boat” is moving it laterally by use of screws and rudder alone. Is that correct?

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Also, just in general, I remember an incident from twenty years ago:
I gave an academy-graduate captain the job of working with an AB to teach him navigation, before the AB went to Crawfords Nautical School for formal study for his mate’s license. The captain was an even-tempered, fair-minded man.

This was in the days before electronic charts, and navigation on the BC Inside Passage required a lot of skill and experience.

After a few voyages, the captain told me that the AB would never be navigator. That he was incapable of learning the craft. In the course of things, the AB moved to another ship with another captain, who I detailed to do the same thing. Long story short, the AB subsequently got his mate’s license, and has been sailing since then, without incident.

If the captain is displaying frustration with you, it might be the captain. The only way you’ll find out is by getting on another boat.


Two weeks isn’t a lot of time to master any skill, especially boat handling. If you just got your shot at training in the wheel house, don’t beat yourself up about not being able to walk the boat sideways. Dont feel like you need to be awake for every watch, get up early for yours, stay a bit late, but seriously spending to much time in the wheel house isn’t going to earn you any additional points. The trainer is just as stressed out as the trainee, maybe even more, it is his ass if you screw up while he’s trying to teach you something. Task loading and fatigue are a thing, add being an educator to that and it can get tense.


Hard to answer partly cause I know dick about crew boats or what is expected.
I am not sure what you mean by “walk the boat” is this a local term for a particular ship handling maneuver.
Varies with different drive systems.
Not something I would expect a green mate to pick up right away.

Or walk around the boat, and know where shit is. Something I would expect a new guy to get on and get squared away PDQ.

Once upon a time long ago, I met the guy I was relieving at the top of the gangway. He told me where the bar was. If he told me everything’s great all taken care of. I knew I had to check everything. Or If he gave me a detailed break down off what was NFG needed sorted now, close to NFG needing sorted soon, and was NFG but been sorted. Things were probably ok.

If it’s a kind of ship I was familiar with I just went to work after I had a beer. Shit would be in the usual places.

New kind of ship, best spend a few days getting myself up to speed on shit I was not familiar with.

Today a green mate, depends on past experience. We usual give a guy 1 shift rotation, which might be only a few days or up to two weeks.

At the end what do you expect. A guy who can every thing including ship ship handling?
Or a guy I can leave to take the watch while I get my head down in the less critical areas?
Do loading or discharge, organize deck crew and organize shit what needs doing?

Working small coastal vessel, with only one mate, as master I am a hands on boat driver.
I will start a new mate doing some ship handling a few landings. Right away. But not something I regard as critical. Unless he really sucks,

Usually if I can leave him to go take a dump or get a cut of coffee. I will say ok. If I don’t trust the guy enough to leave the bridge or wheel house. I can’t give him the ok.

I tell a new guy to do three things when working with a new Master. It’s about trust. He needs to know he can trust you.

Call the Master the first opportunity you can. He needs to know you will call him.

Never ask the Master what should I do. If you have to ask what to do, he will wonder why you don’t know.

Tell the Master what the the situation is and what you are doing about it.
This way he gets to know you know what to do, and will do something when required. If he doesn’t like it he will let you know what he wants you to do instead.

Good luck


Two weeks is not near enough time to evaluate. If you worked for the same Captain and mate they know you a bit better and will give you the benefit of the doubt, and not turn you loose until they could sleep at night(Or day) until they say you are ready to take the slot. Believe me , they are doing you a giant favor and keeping you and themselves off the 6 o’clock news. If not, I know of no good Mariner that will turn you loose just because you did the next step to better your position on short notice or training. Be patient, good things will come to you.


Walking a twin screw light boat is rather easy, maneuvering the boat in tight conditions is a whole different animal, when wind and tide get in your breakfast. Keep an open eye. Best of luck sir.

And use the wind and tide to your advantage, they will most always be your friend, if not don’t be bashful about calling for an assist tug, especiallly when working around oil or oil barges.


I can relate. One of my weaknesses is that I am not particularly good at teaching. . . I guess it might be because I am a quick study, and can pick up on things fairly quickly. . . somehow my kids survived that. . .

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Don’t fight the wind and current use then to your advantage , boat handling isn’t and over night gig that’s for sure . I drove my first paddle boat when I was about 8 and didn’t get my first mates job untill I was 27. What size vessel is this crew boat ? By getting your license a month ago do you mean you just graduated? It’s kinda hard to run the boat if you can’t tell the guys on deck what to do if you haven’t even worked the deck yourself. My company usually allows for 4-6 trips training as mate and if you don’t got it by then . Then it’s back to the deck .

This. I am more interested in a mates thought process and situational awareness than anything else. If I’d rather it were done another way, I can chime in, but at least I know they aren’t paralyzed with fear and are thinking of a solution.


The expression walk the boat is a much nicer than my introduction to the manoeuvre many years ago when it was known as the coon arse walk.

Gee, I wonder where that expression came from?

The captain sounds like a squirrelly asshole, which isn’t all that unusual for a crew boat. Hang in there, transfer if necessary, crew boats are one of the best ways to get actual boat handling experience nowadays.

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