David Ferro thought in terms of a retirement job. James V. Smith wanted a challenge.
So Ferro, of Channahon, and Smith, of Joliet – friends and fellow boat enthusiasts – decided to take the plunge together. Both agree, it wasn’t smooth sailing.
Ferro, a CITGO employee, and Smith, a real estate consultant, recently received the certificate of training for the Master 100 Ton US CAPT 289 course, according to a news release from US Captain’s Training, a U.S. Coast Guard approved training organization, headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan.
They subsequently applied for and were granted the U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credential-Master 50 GRT Near Coastal license, the release also said.
“This allows us to operate up to a 50-gross-ton vessel commercially, but legally,” Smith said.
Capt. Bryan E. Smith, assisted by Vice President Capt. Neil Smith, owns the US Captain’s Training. Capt. Sue Bladek taught the classes in Holland, Michigan. The entire process took over a year to successfully complete, the release also said.
Ferro and Smith agreed these classes were among the most difficult they’ve tackled, ever. The instruction itself took three weekends and not consecutive weekends. This didn’t count homework assignments and studying, which they often did together.
“We didn’t do this ‘boom, boom, boom,’” Ferro said. “There was a lot of time in between. Jim would say, ‘Hey, come down for a couple of hours,’ and we’d be down for four or five.”
Ferro and Smith began mulling on the idea 20 years ago when they participated in the former Waterway Days at Bicentennial Park in Joliet. Both men have loved boating – and owned boats – for decades, although Ferro does not currently own a boat.
“My grandfather had a little 18-foot boat that we had on the Kankakee River by the Wilmington County Line Road area,” Ferro said. “We used to ski and fish and swim, and he taught us how to drive the boat. That was when I was 14 years old.”
Smith said he was “probably 20 or 21” when his best friend introduced him to the joys of boating and Smith quickly caught a malady that strikes many boaters: 2-footitis.
“I had a 16-footer, then an 18-footer, then a 22-footer, then a 25-footer, and I’ve got a 32-foot cabin cruiser now,” Smith said.
How did the men move from thinking about taking the course to commitment? When friends began asking Ferro to move their boats from Chicago to Florida and back again.
“It was fun for a while,” Ferro said. “But then it got to the point where, ‘Hey, you know what? This is not easy.’ I’m taking time off from work to help other people. If I’m going to do this, I’ve got to be able to do it legally and make money. That’s why I took the course and got the license.”
The first challenge was submitting the online application. That process was so complicated, Ferro’s daughter Diane Derrickson of Channahon walked both Smith and Ferro through the steps, they said.
After completing the classes, Ferro and Smith still had requirements to fulfill. This included a federal drug test, physical exam and an American Red Cross training course.
Yet they agree that, now they’ve attained their certificates and licenses, the satisfaction is immense and the possibilities are great. For instance, Ferro said he could take up to 50 people on a fishing boat to Lake Michigan.
“If a doctor has a 50-foot yacht in Lake Michigan and he would like to get it to Fort Lauderdale for the winter or get it to Kentucky Lake, you’re supposed to be a licensed merchant mariner to do that, which is not always the case. Many times, it’s ‘this buddy’ or ‘that buddy.’”
So is this their next challenge? Not yet, both men agreed.
“The next challenge would probably be some marinas along the Illinois or Des Plaines saying, ‘Hey would you bring some boats to Chicago for us?’” Smith said. “I think you have to crawl before you can walk. But the point is, we know what we’re doing now. We know the rules of the road and we’re licensed to do so.”
According to a news release from US Captain’s Training, to earn the United States Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credential-Master 50 GRT Near Coastal license, David Ferro and James V. Smith completed:
• Classes in navigation general, rules of the road, deck general and charting.
• American Red Cross first aid/CPR/AED course.
• U.S. Coast Guard federal drug screening.
• U.S. Coast Guard/DOT physical exam.
In addition, the Ferro and Smith were required to document and submit the Coast Guard Small Vessel Sea Service Form (under 200 gross tons) that documents in excess of 1000 hours of vessel operational experience.
Ferro and Smith also received a Department of Homeland Security/TSA TWIC Card. In addition, they signed and took the U.S. Merchant Mariner Oath.