When I was hired as Washington State Parks’ marine law enforcement training coordinator in April 2014, I was charged with making the state’s Marine Law Enforcement Training Program the best in the nation. A challenging order, considering Washington state—unlike the majority of states and territories—does not have one single agency responsible for recreational boating safety enforcement.
Instead, Washington State Parks works in partnership with 53 state, county and city agencies to provide marine law enforcement training. Our challenge is to provide training to agencies that range in size from the City of Seattle’s Harbor Patrol to the very small counties in the eastern side of the state with few resources.
For decades, State Parks, its partners and our corps of instructors have provided solid training that served the basic needs of our agencies and officers and met our statutory requirements. But I believed that we could and should do more, without unraveling the good work that’s already been done in our state. We needed to develop a training program that could be scalable and flexible enough to fit the needs of both large and small agencies and one that would be in line with national standards.
In August 2014, we began looking into what it would take to achieve accreditation from NASBLA. I reached out to Mark DuPont, NASBLA’s National BOAT Program Director. On very short notice, Mark agreed to teach an abbreviated on-water Stop-and-Pursuit class during our annual Marine Law Enforcement Conference in September 2014. Mark’s class turned out to be the most popular event at the conference.
The popularity of Mark’s class confirmed for me that we did indeed have a strong need for quality advanced vessel-operation training. Over the course of the conference, Mark talked with our instructors, our officers and me about the program and the benefits of gaining NASBLA accreditation.
Achieving accreditation would ensure that Washington State Parks’ training curricula, policies, qualification processes and documentation for crew members, boat operators for search and rescue, and tactical operators meet the BOAT Program’s National Standards. With accreditation, we could train and qualify 600 marine officers from all of our 53 agencies.
I’m proud to say that in just one year our Washington State Marine Law Enforcement Training Program became fully accredited in September 2015—the 12th state to be accredited.
Benefits of accreditation
After achieving accreditation, all of our agency’s officers and trainees are automatically entered into the national database of boat crew members, boat operators for search and rescue, and enhanced vessel operators. Being accredited enabled us to become self-sustaining and to provide both basic and advanced BOAT Program training to our officers and agencies across Washington State. We now save money by having certified instructors in our state to call upon for training.
From my experience, I know that if you give training managers the opportunity to control their own training program, they will usually take you up on it. My goal was to empower those agencies with the resources to develop their own training program, so they were not dependent on State Parks but supported by us.
As we worked through our accreditation process with NASBLA, we developed some innovative programs, including:
Sub Franchising—We offer accreditation to our partner agencies so they can conduct courses and qualify their own officers to NASBLA standards. Once an agency has a sustainable training program, it can conduct training locally at a time that best fits the agency’s needs, rather than travelling to State Parks centrally scheduled classes.
Certified Leads—We identified “Marine Leads” in each of our 53 agencies, and empowered them to sign off on the currency requirements of their officers.
Readiness Assessment Teams (RATs)—A mobile group of our NASBLA-certified instructors that can deliver training on a regional basis or to recertify agency leads whose training has lapsed. An added benefit is reduced travel and per diem costs for agencies as the training can be brought closer to them.
NASBLA accreditation has been the catalyst for us to develop other advanced training courses and to recruit, retain and certify instructors. We are working with NASBLA to develop the River Enhanced Vessel Operator Course (REVOC) and an updated Personal Watercraft (PWC) for Law Enforcement course. We have gone from offering two to three basic courses a year to offering multiple basic and advanced training courses annually.
Achieving accreditation may seem daunting, but NASBLA helped us every step of the way. In addition, we established a Marine Law Enforcement Training Committee to help ensure that we had a training structure that would be sustainable and meet the accreditation standards. The Committee approved and modified our training plan as we worked through NASBLA’s Consultation, Assessment and Accreditation Program (CAAP) process.
An example was the currency requirement for each officer. Before accreditation, Washington had no requirement for officers to keep their training current. We introduced the concept of currency requirement to the Committee and explained the benefits of having documented officer currency, such as reducing risk liability and having better trained officers. The Committee rapidly got on board with the training framework that State Parks had developed to meet accreditation requirements. The training structure we eventually developed focused on moving our training plan from a course-based model to a Personal Qualification Standard (PQS) based model.
After accreditation comes certification
Once we achieved accreditation, we needed to certify our instructors. Our 2015 Marine Law Enforcement Conference helped achieve this goal. During the conference, we conducted six consecutive Enhanced Vessel Operator Courses (EVOC) that not only trained 120 officers from across the state but also resulted in a majority of our instructors being fully or partially NASBLA certified. Our instructors were excited by the opportunity to increase their qualifications, and NASBLA certification may provide some of them with the opportunity to train on a national level following their retirement—as well as being available to State Parks…a win-win.
I highly recommend going through the accreditation process. NASBLA will assist you every step of the way. Whether you are a small single agency or a large statewide organization, NASBLA will work with you to design a program that fits. Once accredited, you will have access to the resources of a national level organization and the expertise of its staff.
If you need help with developing an accredited training framework for your agency, state or territory, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Washington State Parks. We will be more than happy to share our experience with you.
Hoyle Hodges has been with Washington State Parks since April 2014. He is a 25-year U.S Army veteran and retired as the Command Sergeant Major of the 2-505th Parachute Infantry Battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division. In that role, he conducted large-scale training and combat operations that provided him with a unique set of training management experiences and skills. He is also a lifelong boater, a licensed USCG Captain and the owner /operator of a Charter Schooner in Puget Sound. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.902.8835.
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