Advanced Grade Courses

Five Advanced Grade courses are offered by USPS®. They are designed to be taken in sequence because each builds on skills taught in the previous course.

Boat Handling (formerly Seamanship)

Boat Handling is the recommended first course for those wanting to continue with boater training whether as power boaters or sailors. The training includes more about practical subjects such as navigation rules, boat control, boat care, operating a boat under normal and more challenging conditions, what to do should an emergency arise or weather conditions change, nautical know-how and tips for increasing enjoyment while on the water. For those that want to learn even more, this course provides a strong foundation for follow-on navigation and fun-enhancing courses such as Cruise Planning and Sail.

Marine Navigation (formerly Piloting)

This is the first navigation course and introduces the fundamentals of inland and near-shore navigation. Topics included are descriptions of the different types of marine charts, US Coast Guard and other aids to navigation, the boat's compass, basic GPS and use of electronics for navigation, planning and monitoring courses, and back-up methods to use if your electronics stop working.

Advanced Marine Navigation (formerly Advanced Piloting)

This course builds on the skills learned in Marine Navigation and teaches how to navigate when going further outside of your normal boating waters. Topics include course planning with electronics, position finding with electronics and without, methods for predicting tides and tidal currents and their effect on your boat as it moves through the water, more advanced use of GPS systems, the more extensive use of radar, and other electronic navigation techniques. Similarly to piloting, you also will learn back-up methods should your electronics stop working.

Offshore Navigation (formerly Junior Navigation)

Offshore Navigation is the first of two courses that train boaters for offshore navigation – out of sight of land and with or without a working GPS unit. It is designed as a practical “how to” course. In this course you learn about boating beyond sight of a shore and what needs to be done to ensure enjoyment and successful trips of greater distances across open bodies of water. There is also the introduction to the back-up method of celestial navigation using a sextant and the sun to find your boat’s position anywhere on Earth.

    Subject matter includes:
  • Precise time determination
  • Use of the Nautical Almanac
  • Sextant use
  • Position calculation from sun sightings
  • Special charts and plotting sheets for offshore navigation
  • Offshore navigational routines for recreational craft
  • Electronic and computerized offshore navigation

In Offshore Navigation, the student will continue to use GPS as the primary position sensor, as they learned to do in Marine Navigation and Advanced Marine Navigation. However, the offshore environment poses many different elements for consideration by the Navigator. Ocean currents, wind, and sea state all affect a vessel's performance over the longer passages. Also, visible terrestrial landmarks are no longer available to the navigator as reference points. In the Offshore Navigation course, the student will learn to substitute celestial objects such as the sun as reference points.

The course begins with the study of celestial navigation, teaching the student to take sights on the sun with a marine sextant and derive a line of position from that observation. Next, the student will apply the principles learned in Advanced Marine Navigation, and plot a running fix from two sun sights taken about four hours apart. Once the student has learned the basics of celestial sight reduction, the course continues with planning, positioning, and checking one's position in the offshore environment, using both electronic and celestial tools on a practice cruise from Martha's Vinyard MA. to Bermuda.

Celestial Navigation (formerly Navigation)

Once Offshore Navigation has been mastered, this final navigation course continues the students celestial navigation knowledge by teaching the inclusion of celestial bodies in addition to the sun. For example, the moon, planets, and stars that are available for confident offshore position finding. This course also deals with electronic software tools that can be used both to plan and execute an offshore voyage. Students learn to reduce celestial body sights by the Law of Cosines method and by the the Nautical Almanac Sight Reduction (NASR) method. Planning for celestial-sight taking as an essential technique. The course includes a chapter on using software-based voyage planning tools and a complete navigation program. The final chapter of the course challenges the students with a practice cruise from Seattle to Hawaii that uniquely integrates the separate topics of the course and demonstrates how an offshore voyage would be conducted.

Elective Courses

Elective Courses in six areas are offered by USPS. They cover separate and independent topics and therefore may be taken in any order according to a person's interests and schedule.

Engine Maintenance

The Engine Maintenance course is intended to help recreational boaters understand their propulsion systems whether they are outboards, inboards, stern drives, or jet drives. You don't have to be an engineer or mechanic benefit from this course. You will learn about marine propulsion systems, basic engine principles, engine components; controls, instruments and alarms, marine engine maintenance, and steering systems. In addition, you will learn about cooling and exhaust systems, lubrication, fuel and air induction systems, ignition systems, electrical and starting systems, power trains, and trouble shooting. It concludes with a chapter on emergency repairs afloat. Included is a useful chapter on winter storage (with a 25 step winterizing checklist) and spring servicing before launching for the boating season.

Cruising and Cruise Planning

This course prepares you and your boat for a cruise, whether for a day, a week, a month or longer. Whether you are going to cruise on rivers, lakes, the coasts, or across the oceans, very valuable information is provided by those who have been there. The topics discussed are: planning the voyage, financing the voyage, equipping the boat, crew selection, provisioning, voyage management, navigation planning, weather, communications, entering and clearing foreign and domestic ports, anchors and anchoring, emergencies afloat, medical emergencies and security.

Designed for members who cruise on either a sail or powerboat (owned or chartered).


This course will develop the boater's awareness of weather phenomena, and show how to maximize boating pleasure with knowledge about the weather. Topics included in this course are the atmosphere, what the difference between climate and weather is, what causes weather, the movement of weather over the earth, and a whole lot more about weather forecasting. After completing this course, the boater will have the skills to understand weather forecasts and predictions, to make better instrument and visual observations from the boat and to know what it means when radio or television "weathermen" talk about air masses, fronts, storms, and fog. Throughout the course the instructors will show how to make observations and predications before the boaters have to apply their new skills on the water.

The course focuses on how weather systems form, behave, move, and interact with one another and reflects the availability of all sorts of weather reports and forecasts on the Internet. Weather is a general weather course benefiting those sitting in their living rooms, as much as those standing behind the helm.


This course provides an extensive overview into sailboats and sailing principles. Whether you are a novice, intermediate or expert dreaming about sailing to exotic ports in distant islands, this course will provide you with more knowledge about sailboats and what makes them so popular. Topics covered include the types of sailboat rigs and sail plans, sailboat design and hull types, sails, standing rigging, running rigging, wind effects, getting ready to sail, sailing upwind, sailing downwind, sailboat docking and anchoring, and "marlinspike" for sailors. Also included are sailing-specific navigation rules, wind forces, stability, balance, sail shape, rig tuning, steering and helmsmanship, and spinnaker handling. The course concludes with descriptions of heavy weather sailing, storm conditions, sailing safety, and for enthusiasts, sailboat racing and race management.

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.

Marine Electronics

The Marine Electronics course consists of three modules: Marine Electrical Systems, Marine Communications, and Marine Navigation Systems.

Boat Operator Certification

For those USPS® members who want to have their On-The-Water skills validated or refreshed, USPS® offers three levels of skill evaluations leading to certifications. The three levels of navigation competency are Inland, Coastal, and Advanced Coastal. Each level requires a combination of completed courses, seminars, emergency responses, and on the water skill demonstrations in vessels appropriate for the level. Certification provides an additional benefit to members who may want to charter, rent, or lease a boat (especially in a foreign country) and/or who are seeking insurance discounts based on their BOC achievements.