Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
The Haida Fisheries Program sent three staff members; Robert Brown, Mark Grinder and Chris Hans, to an intense 7-day Canadian Coast Guard Rigid Hull Inflatable Operator Training (RHIOT) School in Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
“The course was fast paced right from the start,” said Grinder. “We had a boat-light and boat-rules test right away. It kind of made me nervous but the instructors wanted to know what level of training we’d had.”
According to the Canadian Coast Guard, training included seamanship, navigation, knowledge of the Collision Regulations and that trainees should be familiar with these aspects of boat operation. They also warn participants that they will fail if they are not prepared for the RHIOT training.
Grinder found the tests in the program challenged him.
“The instructors went over the pre-review test with me and helped me through it. After that test it gave me a wakeup call that these guys mean business,” he said.
The course is designed to train people in the operation of rigid hull vessels in extreme weather conditions, and in search and rescue situations.
Brown said that the training helped better his boat operating skills in very rough seas and Grinder’s high point was running the boats. “It was like driving a high-powered sports car on water!” he said.
The course also proved to be physically demanding. There are photos of the crew bobbing in the frigid ocean waters and being hauled into boats with side line harnesses. Brown says that one of his best moments was overturning a boat and learning how to right it in a safe way. He also enjoyed learning how to match speed and stay side-by-side with a large vessel underway. In addition the trainees learned how to tow a boat and use a radar and a plotter.
“After a long day in the classroom and boat training, we had to do homework! It felt at times like boat-training boot camp,” Grinder grimaces.
It was mentally demanding too. Grinder missed his family, being away for the Easter holiday combined with the lack of sleep made it tough to work through the program.
“It seemed like we were always being evaluated on performance so the pressure of that took its toll,” he says. The pressure also forced the students to maintain positive attitudes even when exhausted.
It was about 70 hours of training with many night lectures and night operations using real weather conditions which Hans was nervous about but once he was acquainted with the situation and got his bearing on the water, he felt pretty comfortable, he said.
The new skills Brown learned using the radar and plotter helped him during the two night runs and the charts helped guide his team safely in the dark.
“We had a moment when my team came 60 feet from a rocky point during low water,” Grinder said, describing a scary incident during night training.
Brown said the time spent away was a very good week of training and that he thoroughly enjoyed himself. Grinder and Brown both expressed that they got to places where they learned to trust their crew and to work as a team – and not to be afraid to making mistakes or ask for help.
Robert Brown, Mark Grinder, and Chris Hans urge others who intend to take this training to study hard and to be ready to have fun while learning new skills and lessons.
“It’s not every day that you get to operate high speed boats,” said Grinder. Hans sums it up saying, “This is the best course I’ve taken as a Haida Guardian!”