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About The NOWS Program

Improving the safety and enjoyment of recreational boating


through the largest ever collaboration initiative 

in on-water skills-based instruction.

Designed and facilitated by Think First Serve, Inc

National On Water Standards Program Signed Matt

The mission of the National On-Water Standards (NOWS) Program is to advance the overall level of quality, availability, and consistency of On-Water, skills-based instruction in entry-level recreational boat operation through the development, integration and application of On-Water Standards within a National System of Standards for Recreational Boat Operation.

The US Coast Guard's National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) developed a strategic plan in 2012 designed to reduce the number of injuries, accidents and fatalities that take place each year in recreational boating. In the plan, NBSAC referenced a significant lack of On-Water instruction aimed at skills development in recreational boat operation and set one of the plan's objectives to fill that gap. The NOWS Program was the direct result of that strategic objective. 

The NOWS Program was funded in part by a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. It brought together subject matter experts from across the SAIL, POWER and HUMAN-propelled domains of the recreational boating to collaborate on the content development and application of consensus-based standards for entry-level recreational boat operation standards. The standards are designed to work in conjunction with recreational boating knowledge and other standards as part of a national system of standards.

For a summary of the purpose and outcomes produced by the NOWS Program, download the one-pager NOWS in a Nutshell.


Increasing the level of safety and enjoyment recreational boaters experience on our nation’s waterways requires vision, strategy, significant resources and, most importantly, a large number of enthusiastic and committed people willing to contribute.


The National On-Water Standards (NOWS) Program began with a call to action by the National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) to increase the quality and availability of on-water, skills-based instruction. The vision of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) then led to the provision of grant resources, the formation of a core team of subject matter experts, and the organization of a comprehensive multi-year program.

The On-Water instruction resources developed by the NOWS Program are the result of the effort to develop, validate, and gain consensus on national standards that will help shape the way people learn safer boating. 

These resources exist because of the dedication and support of thousands of people who volunteered their time, energy, and talent. In particular, special thanks go to past and present members of the NOWS Program Subject Matter Expert (SME) Core Team:

John Adey

Harry Horgan

Jeremy Oyen

Dick Allsopp

Rich Jepsen

Bob Palmer

Charlie Arms

Emily King

Joni Palmer

Willie Black

Timothea Larr

Robin Pope

Pete Chisholm

Thomas Lindblade

Karen Prioleau

Gordon Colby

Lynn Lynch

Jeff Riecks

Pamela Dillon

John Malatak

Bruce Rowe

Peter Durant

Daniel Maxim

Ron Sarver

Rick Franke

Richard Moore

Linda Stearns

Joshua Hall

James Muldoon

Christopher Stec


Special credit goes to the Grant Management Team who ensured strategic alignment of the NOWS Program with the intent of the USCG grant-funding program:

Pete Chisholm

Joanne Dorval

James Muldoon

K. Brian Dorval

Timothea Larr

Many thanks also to the SME team members who provided support to the Core Team’s work to develop the content of the standards:

Jerry Craddock

Dave Marlow

Katherine Tamer

Steve Colgate

Larry Meddock

Michael Ulrich

Brian Davidson

Bruce Smith

Brian Westfall

Ed Huntsman

Cai Svendsen

And significant appreciation goes to K. Brian Dorval of Think First Serve, Inc., for his leadership, design and facilitation of the NOWS Program.

Special acknowledgements are also due to:

  • The USCG Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety for its sponsorship of the NOWS Program and the funding that enabled the development of this TSD and the American National Standard (ANS) that it supports.  Special thanks to Rear Admiral Paul Thomas, Captain Jon Burton, Captain Tom Boross, Jeff Hoedt, for Strategic guidance; Grant Technical Manager Wayne Stacey for grant implementation support; and Susan Weber for support with Recreational Boating Statistics.

  • The United States Sailing Association for acquiring and administering the USCG grant that funded the development of this TSD and the ANS for which it was developed.  Special thanks to Jack Gierhart, Stu Gilfillen, Jessica Servis, Janine Connelly, Joy Hadley, and Diane Kareta for their support of the NOWS Program over the years.


  • The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) for serving as the accredited Standards Developing Organization that produced the ANS; and their guidance in developing this TSD. Special thanks to John Adey, Helen Koepper and Brian Goodwin for their leadership during the process.


  • NBSAC for developing the strategic plan and supporting the USCG boating safety grant program.

  • John Malatak for his original vision that provided the USCG strategic guidance for the NOWS Program.


  • The many different recreational boating organizations that supported the efforts of their staff and members to volunteer time and expertise in contributing to the program.


  • The more than 3000 volunteer instructors and recreational boating operators from 53 states and territories who provided direct input on national surveys, operated boats used during field testing, and collected data on the effectiveness of the standards.


  • The boards, staffs and volunteers of the venues around the country that supported the field-testing of the standards:

  • Annapolis Sailing School, Annapolis, MD, especially Mike Nelson

  • Edison Sailing Center, Ft. Myers, FL, especially Stephanie and Ross Webb

  • SUNY Maritime College, Bronx, NY, especially Rob Crafa

  • Mentor Harbor Yachting Club, Mentor, OH, especially Cecilia Duer

  • Capital Yacht Club/DC Sail, Washington DC, especially Phil Johnson, Brian McNally

  • Coronado Yacht Club, Coronado, CA, especially Becky Nygren

  • University of Southern Florida St. Petersburg, FL, especially Zac Oppenheim

  • Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission: James Island County Park, Charleston, SC, especially Joshua Hall

  • New Orleans Yacht Club, New Orleans, LA, especially Ed Huntsman, Elizabeth (Buzzy) McFerrin

  • Thompson Boat Center, Washington, DC

  • Hirsch Conservation Education Area/Biscuit Tank Pond; Ben Avery Shooting Facility, Phoenix, AZ, especially Kim Jackson

  • Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven, CT, especially Martin Torresquintero, Mark Chanski

  • BaySail on the Chesapeake, Tidewater Marina, Havre de Grace, MD, especially Todd Hess, Jeff Riecks

  • Orange Coast College: School of Sailing and Seamanship, Newport Beach, CA, especially Mette Segerblom

  • Shake A Leg - Miami, FL, especially Karis Starke

  • YMCA Camp Seafarer, Arapahoe, NC, especially Mary Laurence McMillian Crook

  • Annapolis Yacht Club, Annapolis, MD, especially Charlie Arms

  • Buffalo Yacht Club, Buffalo, NY, especially TJ Wright, Salvatore De Pasquale, Christine Storfer

  • Paddle the Florida Keys, Tavernier, FL, especially Scott Baste

  • Sunshine Coast Adventures, Tavernier, FL, especially Jennifer MacLean

  • Shake-a-Leg Miami, especially Harry Horgan, Cecilia Duer

  • Virginia Key Outdoor Center, especially Esther Alonso-Luft

  • Team Paradise Sailing, especially Magnus Liljedahl

  • Boating in DC; Key Bridge and Thompson Boathouses, especially Peter Casson, Portia Sampson-Knapp

  • DC Sail, especially Brian McNally


  • The teams of individuals including safety powerboat drivers, Boating Law Administrators, and members of the Departments of Natural Resources from across the country who helped plan events and ensure safety during field-testing activities.


  • The many organizations that provided use of their boats, craft, and other equipment during field-testing of the standards.


  • Bob Palmer, Joshua Hall, Jeff Riecks, Rich Jepsen, Emily King and Robin Pope for special support during design and implementation of the Standards national validation field-testing programs.


  • Jeff Riecks and MiraMar Adventures; Harry Horgan and Shake-a-Leg Miami; and Joanne Dorval of METCOR/LSI, for hosting the Instructional Approach Standard (IAS) National Validation Program events.


  • Cecilia Duer for initial support and guidance during the startup and implementation of the grant program and to her team from Spirit of American for their support during preparation of the National Validation Program field-testing data collection sessions.


  • Debbie Dunne for logistical support during the SAIL Standard national validation field-testing program.


  • The Buffalo Yacht Club, United States Sailing Association, METCOR/LSI, Think First Serve, and American Sailing Association for sponsoring the NVP milestone celebration event.


  • Research design team members Dr. Stephen Silverman, Dr. Risto Marttinen, Dr. Daniel Maxim and Dr. Scott G. Isaksen who provided expertise in the design of the national validation field-testing programs and statistical analysis of the data.


  • The Standards Collaboration Initiative established by the USCG for its work in harmonizing the Skills and Knowledge Standards for maximum benefit and use by the recreational boating public:

  • United States Sailing Association

  • National Safe Boating Council (NSBC)

  • National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)

  • National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA)/Discover Boating


  • METCOR/LSI for its funding and support of grant management activities.


  • Todd Lochner, ESQ. and his team at Lochner Law Firm, P.C. for contributing legal expertise in the development of these materials.

Learn more about the development of the

National On-Water Standards (NOWS) Program

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