Coronavirus Update

Due to the current emergency, Great Blue Hill is suspending all courses and seminars for spring 2020. See our Online offerings below.


Learn Seamanship & Navigation

For our introduction to boating course, see America’s Boating Course (the ABCs) for details on taking it online. NOTE: Online courses are not recognized for the Massachusetts Safe Boating Certificate.

Upcoming Advanced  Boating Courses

NEW COURSES & SEMINARS: SPRING 2020 CURRICULUM — All courses & seminars are cancelled due to the COVID-19 emergency.You may enroll in Online Courses and Seminars offered by the United States Power Squadrons in partnership with the BoatUS Foundation. GBH members receive a discount.  Please sign up for GBH Boating alerts. Let us know which courses you are interested in taking and topics you’d like us to offer.

Core Courses

These courses follow the ABCs (America’s Boating Course) in a sequence designed to build continued confidence from boat handling for both power and sail, to course plotting and coastal piloting, to offshore navigation. Our navigation courses teach both GPS and traditional methods.

USPS members receive recognition for completing courses in the core curriculum. This is indicated by a”grade” ranking following their names showing the highest advanced course completed. For example: Jane Doe, S [Seamanship]. Members completing all core courses plus at least six elective courses are “SN” [Senior Navigator].

Great Blue Hill generally offers core courses as follows: Boat Handling, spring; Piloting/Marine Navigation, fall; Advanced Piloting/Marine Navigation, winter/spring; Offshore Navigation, winter. Offshore and Celestial Navigation alternate every other year. To receive notices of upcoming courses, request to have your name added to the mailing list.

Boat Handling

Course suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this course in the fall.

NEW: Boat Handling replaces the former Seamanship course and is now offered as a series of seminars. You may take all sessions or only those covering skills you need.

Build boating confidence and competence for safe and fun on-the-water adventures. Boat Handling provides a foundation of knowledge and skills in steering and maneuvering, boat operation, skipper’s responsibilities and boating techniques that will advance your boating enjoyment.

For both sail and power boats, Boat Handling covers a wide range of knowledge, including:

      • Steering and handling boats on plane
      • Anchoring in various conditions
      • Docking and line handling
      • Close quarter maneuvering
      • Rules of the road
      • Communication with other boats
      • How to respond to various emergencies
      • Marlinespike/basic knots
      • And other topics essential to boating with safety and confidence

Course content has been thoroughly revised and updated. The student manual is now in eBook form and new videos and animations are integrated into fresh PowerPoint slides. This is an intermediate course. America’s Boating Course, a safe boating course, or prior boating experience recommended.

Boat Handling is now the introductory course in the USPS core curriculum. Completion of all topics and passing an exam qualifies you for the USPS grade rating of S (Seamanship).

Seminar Topics

      •  Rules of the Road — A Practical Approach
      • Anchoring with Assurance — Don’t Get Carried Away
      • Confidence in Docking and Undocking — Slow-Speed Maneuvering
      • Boating with Confidence — Handling Your Boat Underway
      • Emergencies on Board — Preparation for Handling Common Problems
      • Knots and Line Handling — The Knots You Need to Know

Piloting/Marine Navigation

The first in a sequence of USPS courses on navigation, Piloting/Marine Navigation covers the basics of coastal and inland navigation. This course focuses on recreational boat navigation and embraces GPS as a primary navigation tool while covering traditional techniques so the student will find their way if the GPS fails.

You will learn the essentials of safe coastal and inland navigation that ensure you are on-course while underway. In class exercises will develop student skills through hands-on practice.

      • Charts and their interpretation
      • Landmarks and navigation aids (buoys, daymarks, lights, etc.)
      • Plotting courses and determining direction and distance
      • The mariner’s compass and converting between True and Magnetic
      • Use of GPS – basic GPS displays and information they provide, setting up waypoints and routes, staying on a GPS course
      • Pre-planning courses and entering them into the GPS
      • Monitoring progress and determining position by both GPS and traditional techniques such as bearings and dead reckoning
      • The “Seaman’s Eye” – simple skills for checking that one is on course

Advanced Marine Navigation


Do you want to navigate unfamiliar waters in limited visibility or take an extended cruise with confidence? Learn to use radar, chart plotters, AIS and other electronic tools to supplement basic GPS navigation. Obtain a thorough understanding of piloting techniques in a variety of coastal tide, current and wind conditions.

      • Advanced positioning techniques, such as advancing a line of position to obtain a running fix
      • Use a variety of electronic tools: radar, depth sounders, autopilots, chart plotters, laptop computer software, and more
      • Hazard avoidance techniques using electronics (e.g., avoidance waypoints or safety zones in GPS)
      • Collision avoidance using radar, GPS, and AIS
      • Working with tide and current data to determine clearances, depth of water and effects of current
      • Piloting in various wind and current conditions
      • The “Seaman’s Eye” – simple skills for checking that one is on course

Offshore Navigation

What happens when your GPS fails? Have fun and satisfy your curiosity about boating in the days before electronics in the Offshore Navigation course. Learn to use a marine sextant to take sights on celestial objects such as the sun. Even if you are not traveling long distances offshore, remember that GPS is not infallible, nor always available. Be confident when no aids to navigation or land objects are in sight.

In Offshore Navigation, you will continue to use GPS as the primary position sensor as you learned in Coastal Navigation and Advanced Coastal Navigation, but with celestial navigation as your backup technique. Because terrestrial landmarks are no longer visible to the offshore navigator, you will learn to use a marine sextant and the sun as your reference point, derive a line of position, and develop a running fix. You will also learn to calculate your latitude from a noon sight on the sun.

Finally, Offshore Navigation introduces watchkeeping and other techniques of cruising on the open ocean. These time-tested procedures are good skills to have even along the coast.

      • Determining precise time
      • Using the Nautical Almanac
      • Taking sextant sights of the sun
      • Reducing sights to establish lines of position
      • Determining latitude from a noon sight
      • Using special charts and plotting sheets for offshore navigation
      • Setting offshore navigational routines for recreational craft

Celestial Navigation

Learn navigation using all the celestial bodies! Use navigational software tools to plan and execute an offshore voyage. In the event of a loss of electronics on board, you’ll be glad you took this course and developed the necessary backup skills for an offshore voyage. Even if you have no plans to travel offshore, you will be able to impress your boating friends with your depth of celestial knowledge.

The Celestial Navigation course will teach you how to use the moon, planets, and stars to determine your position at morning and evening twilight to supplement daytime sights on the sun, moon, and bright planets. You will also get access to and use navigational software tools that can be used to plan and execute any voyage.

      • An overview of how the celestial bodies in the sky appear to us on earth
      • Finding local mean time of solar and lunar phenomena and converting these times to watch time
      • Reducing sights of the moon, stars, and planets by the Law of Cosines and Nautical Almanac Sight Reduction methods, along with sight data averaging
      • Achieving acceptable 2- and 3-body fixes, using both traditional and electronic tools
      • Determining your latitude from a sight on Polaris, the north star
      • Provisioning an emergency navigation kit and constructing emergency plotting sheets
      • Using navigational software to plan an offshore voyage (Visual Passage Planner 2) and execute a voyage (OpenCPN)

Advanced Elective Courses

These courses are of similar length to the core courses and build knowledge and skill in specific boating areas.

Engine Maintenance

Every skipper needs to understand the fundamentals of gas and diesel engines to perform basic maintenance and diagnose problems under way. Learn about transmissions, propellers, and steering. Get the knowledge you need to keep your boat in tiptop shape.

      • Basics of engine layout and operation for gasoline inboards, outboards and diesels
      • Basic mechanical systems such as drive systems (propellers), steering systems, and engine controls
      • Repairs that do-it-yourselfers can perform
      • Diagnose problems that might be beyond your ability to fix
      • How to share information with your mechanic so the right repairs get performed

Cruising & Cruise Planning

Want to take a “road trip” on the water? Gain the confidence and practical skills needed to explore ports and coves for a weekend or weeks at a time. Take Cruising and Cruise Planning and join your fellow boaters for raft-ups and rendezvous up the river, down the bay, and along the coast. The course is being offered in time to help you plan to take part in the GBH Maine Cruise 2018.

      • Cruise preparation and planning
      • Boat and equipment
      • Anchors and anchoring
      • Security
      • Chartering
      • Cruising outside the United States
      • Crew and provisioning
      • Voyage management
      • Communications
      • Navigation
      • Weather
      • Emergencies

Electronic Navigation

Electronic Navigation introduces GPS technology from the most basic receiver to chart plotter systems for navigation on board. The course demonstrates the  process of navigating by establishing waypoints and routes, and then running the planned courses. Further, we examine electronic charting software for the desktop computer, with creation of waypoints and routes on the desktop and subsequent download to the on-board unit. Despite differences among the various manufacturers’ offerings, we include a thorough discussion of available features. Special attention is paid to apps for tablets and smartphones that provide the electronic navigation function at the helm, for relatively little cost. This course omits Radar, however it covers Automatic Identification System (AIS) and will touch on the latest Depth Sonar technologies.

Students should be familiar with basic charting concepts such as latitude, longitude, the compass, course plotting, and time/distance calculation, to get the most out of the course.Materials include a soft-bound course text and a Windows-compatible CD for electronic content. The course menu provides all the class presentation PowerPoints, an interactive homework tool and hands-on exercises using OpenCPN navigation software.

      • How to use a GPS
      • Types of GPS units
      • The electronic chart
      • Electronic charting on a computer
      • Chart plotter features
      • Enhanced chartplotters
      • Tablets
      • Limits of accuracy
      • AIS
      • and more


Learn about basic sailboat designs and nomenclature, rigging, and safety from experienced USPS sailors. Then tackle the physical aspects of sailing forces and techniques, sail applications, marlinespike, helmsmanship, and handling of difficult sailing conditions. This course will benefit non-sailors as well as novice and experienced sailors.

      • Types of sailboat rigs and hull shapes, including sail configurations and standing rigging
      • Wind and water forces affecting sailboat stability and balance
      • Sail shape and tuning the standing rig
      • Steering and helmsmanship
      • Sailing upwind, downwind and spinnaker handling
      • Heavy weather sailing and storm conditions
      • Boat operations including docking, anchoring and safety issues


For boaters, knowing the forecast isn’t enough; you need to understand its impact on you and your boat. Gain the knowledge and confidence to venture out on the water. Be a responsible skipper, protect your friends and family and take this course today.

      • How weather systems form, behave, and move
      • Where to get weather reports and forecasts on the Internet
      • Using full color photographs and drawings to understand weather in the United States
      • Using Daily Weather Maps – learning aids with a compete explanation of map symbols designed to develop weather map reading and analysis skills
      • Understanding NOAA’s Sky Watcher Chart – a reference to assist in identifying cloud types

Instructor Development

Unlike other USPS courses, the Instructor Development course is not designed to enhance boating skills. Rather, its emphasis is on enhancing presentation techniques and instructor skills.

The course has been designed to demonstrate interactive teaching methods focused on adult learning. Students are required to prepare lesson plans and give three presentations to their peers utilizing a variety of teaching aids and presentation skills. The instructor may assign a topic for these presentations or you may use material and PowerPoint slides from existing USPS courses, and they may build on one another.

This course offers practical experience in:

      • Effective communication for speakers and teachers
      • Preparing for teaching assignments and meetings
      • Effective teaching techniques
      • Conducting efficient meetings
      • Selecting and using audiovisual aids


Seminars & Workshops are one-evening, concentrated classes that give quick access to needed boating skills. Study Groups are a short sequence of classes that cover topics in greater depth, focusing on information that boaters most want to know.


Man Overboard

Course suspended due to coronavirus

May 18, 2020

This may be the most important seminar you’ve ever taken. Now offered FREE as the boating season begins.

People fall overboard, especially in rough weather and high seas. Or, just through inattention or bad luck. Discover how to equip and maneuver your boat to retrieve someone in the water. Essential for all boaters, this seminar teaches you what to do if you fall overboard, as well as how to retrieve someone else. The seminar includes a Student Guide and take-home materials.

What’s included?

      • Vessel set-up and man overboard (MOB) equipment
      • What to do first!
      • Maneuvering to keep the rescuer close to the person in the water
      • How to recover a crewmember who has fallen overboard

FREE EVENT • Pre-Registration appreciated.


RULES OF THE ROAD — A Practical Approach

seminar suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

May Be Taken as a Stand Alone Seminar or as a Component of the Boat Handing Course

ESSENTIAL “BRUSH UP” BEFORE EVERY SEASON! The Rules of the Road (how to operate your boat on the water) is a topic that we would like all boaters to know – especially the other guy! While a seminar on “rules” doesn’t sound all that exciting, our goal is to make this entertaining as well as informative. Our approach is to apply “common sense” interpretations to the rules to help make them easier to understand and remember.

Anyone pursuing a Coast Guard license will quickly learn that “rules of the road” is a priority topic requiring 90% correct or better on the exam.  Although relatively complete, this seminar does not contain all the details of the rules nor an overview of Maritime Court rulings.

Why are rules important?

      • Communicate actions between skippers
      • Set level of expectation
      • Provide guidance in various situations
      • Identify other boats

This is an intermediate seminar. America’s Boating Course, a safe boating course, or prior boating experience recommended.



seminar suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

May Be Taken as a Stand Alone Seminar or as a Component of the Boat Handing Course

Don’t drift! Understand the issues and problems involving anchoring, such as anchor types and sizes. Learn proper anchoring techniques for your area. By understanding anchoring conditions and situations, you’ll protect your boat and get a good night’s sleep on the water. The seminar materials include a Student Guide with slide images and complete notes.

What’s Included?

      • Anchor types
      • What size anchor
      • Anchoring
      • Tips and tricks
      • Buying an anchor
      • Where common anchors work best
      • How much line or chain to use
      • Anchor lines
      • Anchor chains
      • Holding power

This is an intermediate seminar. America’s Boating Course, a safe boating course, or prior boating experience recommended.



seminar suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

May Be Taken as a Stand Alone Seminar or as a Component of the Boat Handing Course

Learn how to depart, dock, and handle different types of boats while looking like a pro.  Learn the different types of propulsion, steering, and trimming so you can develop proficiency in handling your vessel in close quarters. The seminar materials include a Student Guide with slide images and complete notes.  A copy of the waterproof Captain’s QuickGuide Boat Handling under Power is optionally available.

What’s included?

      • How to operate powerboats and sailboats under power
      • Close quarters maneuvering
      • Docking
      • Handling dock lines
      • Propulsion
      • Types of steering
      • Jet drives
      • Turning
      • Steering in reverse
      • Single and twin screw

This is an intermediate seminar. America’s Boating Course, a safe boating course, or prior boating experience recommended.


BOATING WITH CONFIDENCE — Handling Your Boat Underway

seminar suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

May Be Taken as a Stand Alone Seminar or as a Component of the Boat Handing Course

Learn how to handle your boat in wind and wave. Get your boat on plane, adapt to on-the-water conditions and bring it home safely. The seminar materials include a Student Guide with slide images and complete notes.

What’s included?

      • How to operate powerboats and sailboats in all conditions
      • Trimming your boat
      • Operating on plane
      • Boating in open bays and off shore
      • Holding course in heavy weather
      • Dealing with inlets

This is an intermediate seminar. America’s Boating Course, a safe boating course, or prior boating experience recommended.


Emergencies on Board — Preparation for Handling Common Problems

seminar suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

May Be Taken as a Stand Alone Seminar or as a Component of the Boat Handing Course

Learn how to adequately prepare for common emergencies and deal with them when they occur. Gain practical knowledge about accident prevention, running aground, onboard fires, getting lost, towing, and medical emergencies. A must-have for skippers, this seminar provides valuable skills for anyone venturing on the water. The seminar materials include a Student Guide with slide images and complete notes.

What’s Included?

      • Prevent accidents
      • Make emergency calls and signals
      • Deal with running aground
      • Handle a person overboard situation
      • Deal with medical conditions
      • Put out fires onboard
      • Deal with losing power
      • Deal with steering failures
      • Deal with getting lost

This is an intermediate seminar. America’s Boating Course, a safe boating course, or prior boating experience recommended.


KNOTS AND LINE HANDLING — The Knots You Need to Know

seminar suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

May Be Taken as a Stand Alone Seminar or as a Component of the Boat Handing Course

Learn about knots, lines and ropes. Which are used when? You will learn what makes a knot work, why certain knots are best for specific conditions — such as securing your boat to a mooring — and the types of line to be used as well. No boater—power or sail—is complete without a solid knowledge of knots!

What’s Included?

      • Tying essential knots:
        • Cleat Hitch
        • Bowline
        • Sheet Bend, and more
      • Uses of knots
        • Securing your boat
        • Repairing an anchor rode
        • Rescuing crew overboard, and more
        • Recognizing types of line and their uses
      • How to heave and coil a line
      • Identify characteristics and properties of rope
      • Care and maintenance of lines

This is an intermediate seminar. America’s Boating Course, a safe boating course, or prior boating experience recommended.


Using VHF & VHF/DSC Marine Radios

Course suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

Get familiar with your boat’s VHF marine radio in just two hours. Experienced instructors teach you how to use VHF radio like a pro, including the digital selective calling (DSC) rescue feature. You’ll also get tips on purchasing and installing VHF to get the most out of your investment. A handy waterproof McGraw-Hill Captain’s QuickGuide Using VHF is included with essential information that you should have aboard. This QuickGuide explains to anyone on your crew how to use the radio, a real benefit if you’re unable to help in an emergency. You also receive a computer VHF radio simulator to practice your calls at home.

What’s Included?

      • How VHF radios work and their controls
      • Using the correct channels
      • Using correct procedures and terminology
      • Advanced methods of communication
      • How digital selective calling (DSC) equipped radios work and their controls
      • Practice DSC calls using the included DSC simulator on CD


Mariner’s Compass

seminar suspended due to coronavirus

We plan to offer this seminar in the fall.

Even in the electronics age, a compass is essential for safe boating.  Learn how to select and install a compass on your boat, which features are most important and what will work best for you, how to deal with variation between true and magnetic north, and how to adjust your compass to remove most of the deviation caused by local magnetic influences.  This is an essential seminar for all boaters. You’ll also receive Student Notes with copies of slides. A copy of the USPS Guide Mariner’s Compass is optionally available.

The instructor is Robert E. (Ridge) White, founder of R.E. White Instrument Services and former publisher of Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book.

What’s included?

      • Compass types
      • Compass selection
      • Compass errors
      • Earth’s magnetic forces
      • Magnetic variation
      • Deviation
      • Installation on your boat


Chartplotter Study Group

A New Idea in Boating Learning GBH is simplifying our approach to learning how to get the most from these essential navigation devices. Rather than a lengthy course, the Chartplotter Study Group focuses on the things boaters really want to know. Plus, we’ll share our knowledge, gleaning secrets from each other — just like your college peer-to-peer sessions. Topics are:

      • What’s New?  Overview of today’s chartplotters — Integrating multiple functions: GPS (of course) plus Sonar/RADAR/AIS/DSC/wind and depth, autopilot, etc. How to choose the right equipment for your boat.
      • Chartplotter Secrets  Navigating the menus in depth — Creating, editing, & using waypoints and routes. Plus, deep data: fuel gauges, speed, racing info, tides & currents. Split screens, auxiliary screens, & more.
      • Computers and Navigation  Create and edit waypoints and routes at home and transfer to your boat — Crash course in the OpenCPN application & proprietary software. Tablet apps. Social media. Keeping charts up to date. Controlling the boat with your watch!
      • Special Issues in Electronic Navigation  Using features you need — Anchor drag & other alarms. AIS/MARPA collision avoidance. Video, GRIB/Sirius weather. Listening to music. Creating a WiFi network.

Students should be familiar with basic navigation concepts such as latitude, longitude, the compass, & course plotting. You may also take the class as the Electronic Navigation elective for USPS credit. This option includes the Student Manual, an extra session and the exam.

Introduction to Navigation

Do you want to learn practical techniques to plan, navigate, and check your progress on the water? It’s not that hard, and modern marine electronics like GPS and chartplotters make it even easier. This seminar will introduce you to using nautical charts to determine safe routes, creating waypoints in your chartplotter and other GPS devices, and basic electronic navigation and planning using the free downloadable OpenCPN software. This seminar is a great foundation for advanced courses that teach piloting and celestial navigation skills.

The student kit includes the Introduction to Navigation Student Guide with integrated discussion to the instructor PowerPoint classroom presentation, including directions to download navigation charts and the OpenCPN software application.

What’s Included?

      • Nautical charts
      • Waypoint navigation using a chartplotter
      • Navigation planning using OpenCPN software
      • Navigation while underway
      • What to do when things go wrong

Intro to Knots Workshop

In the first hour you will learn the five essential knots that every boater should know:

  • Cleat hitch
  • Bowline
  • Half hitch
  • Clove hitch
  • Square knot

In your ABC class you were given a knot kit. Bring it with you or bring at least 6’ of line, ¼” to 3/8” diameter. Knot kits will be available in class for $10 cash. In the second hour you will learn a simple method to whip lines and then you will learn splice a loop into the end of a 3 strand line. The splicing line will be provided to you.

Winterize Your Boat Workshop

Every year, boats suffer extensive damage from winter weather. Don’t let it happen to yours! This one-evening workshop will give you the courage to do it yourself, saving money and gaining peace of mind from knowing that everything has been done right.

The session will cover engine lay-up in detail: outboards, inboards, gas and diesel. You’ll learn why to change oil now, not in the spring, the correct antifreeze, and how to be sure there is no residual water to freeze. Then, we’ll also examine best practices for other important systems, like the head, galley, and water tanks. Finally, protection from wind and snow.

Online Courses

USPS offers several seminars online in partnership with the BoatUS Foundation. USPS members receive discounted fees.