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Woody Skoriak With Four Decades of Local Maritime Training

Captain John “Woody” Skoriak, Master 500GT and yacht broker, wrote in to let us know he’s passed what he says is his last license renewal after a few days of maritime training. He’s had a USCG license since 1984 and has had to renew it six or seven times since then to learn new procedures and equipment, and changing requirements. Now age 75, Woody’s figuring it’s his last time. Renewals require updating skills and passing tests in firefighting, CPR, flipping and boarding a liferaft, survival and other safety skills.

Woody Skoriak
Firefighting classes are held at the Cal Maritime facility in Richmond.
© 2023 John Skoriak

Woody reports many schools were limited or even closed down during COVID, and now many license holders are rushing back to get their licenses renewed post-pandemic. He says, “Cal Maritime has a good training facility, though for a school that is part of University of California system, it’s somewhat expensive for the courses. There are companies that had satellite operations in the Bay Area for licensing and such, but none besides Cal Maritime that I’m aware of for Coast Guard firefighting, survival, safety, etc.

“Consequently, classes tend to fill up fast.”

The courses are broken down into Original, which is generally five days; Refresher, which is three days and is for those who have taken Original before, but don’t have 100 days of sea time within the last five years; and finally, Revalidation, which is either a one- or two-day course for those who have taken Original in the past and have 100 days of sea time in the last five years. These courses are for the STCW Certificate, or Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping. A few years back, the Coast Guard decided that mariners had to renew this training every five years instead of the STCW’s being good for life. So every five years, everyone goes back to school!

Over the years, Woody has done his training here in Northern California with Cal Maritime, and also with Maritime Institute Training Resources in San Diego so he can schedule and cover all the classes needed to keep his licenses current. Captain Skoriak says he was impressed with firefighting classes at Cal Maritime’s facilities in Richmond, which also house the classrooms for the Safety and Security Center where they teach CPR/First Aid, etc. They only use the Cal Maritime campus itself for radar and simulator training.

Woody Skoriak
Woody Skoriak with a few younger classmates at Cal Martime in Vallejo, home to the successful Keelhaulers sailing team.
© 2023 Cal Maritime

Woody relates, “One of the participants (students) in the class I took last week at Cal Maritime is a very nice guy who also teaches five courses at Cal Maritime himself. His name is Joel Aldrich, and he was a former EMT who went to Cal Maritime and graduated in 2001 and has remained active since. Now he teaches some radar and simulator classes, First Aid and CPR, and others.”

Woody says courses at Maritime Institute Training Resources also have a great facility in San Diego. He took his advanced firefighting there in 2017. Woody says, “They had great instructors and new facility at the time; we worked on big screens that were simulators, putting out fires on ships. Maritime Institute is great.”

Survival suit
Staying warm at the pool’s edge may require practice getting into a survival suit.
© 2023 John Skoriak

Woody went on to say, “The fire instructors at Cal Maritime are great as well. The pool training is at Cal Maritime. It’s outdoors so it’s best to take the pool training this time of year and not in winter when it’s very cold. Even though the pool is heated, students (myself) have to stand around for a while waiting for our turn to jump in the water, and we are in wet clothes, shivering because we do an exercise fully clothed treading water first. Then we have to jump off a high platform with a life vest, swim over to a 12-man life raft, climb up on it, grab the rope, and turn it over. It took me a few tries to do it, even though I swim a half mile every day in our pool!”

Flipping the liferaft
Flipping a 12-person life raft at the Cal Maritime pool in Vallejo is not an easy task, no matter how old you are.
© 2023 John Skoriak

“Getting up onto the liferaft is like trying to walk on a water bed, only it’s wet and slippery as well. Many schools have a six-man or smaller rafts. When we [Miri, Woody’s wife, who also works as a ship’s captain and holds a Master Unlimited, All Oceans. All Tonnage license] took our original class in New Orleans back in the 1990s, we just had to jump in the water from the edge of the pool and get in the raft — that was it. This is not an exercise for someone not fit … ha! Most of the guys and gals in my class were in their 30s or younger, and many were Cal Maritime grads keeping their license current.

“I knew that Cal Maritime had a steady market for students in their Extended Learning Program, because graduates who are merchant mariners have to renew their training every five years like I did to keep their licenses current. But I wondered how many private individual mariners like myself attended classes there. Joel said that it was probably about 400 students between their graduates [and] private mariners.”

Beyond teaching at Cal Maritime, Woody says, “Joel is also doing ship and cargo surveys now. If a mariner went to Cal Maritime for a course, Joel would be a good choice for instructor. Also at the top of the list would be the head fire instructor, Richard McKenzie, who I also had for my renewal five years ago. The guy knows his stuff and has a great sense of humor.

“We are lucky to have a facility nearby that has comprehensive training with a good schedule of classes, many of which seem to be in demand now in the post-COVID era.”

After almost 40 years, Woody can fill a large wall with diplomas and certificates.
© 2023 John Skoriak

As many know, Woody is a yacht broker and passionate wooden-boat enthusiast (hence his nickname) who’s done a lot to support Call of the Sea and who recently teamed up with Latitude 38 editor John Riise to publish an article in WoodenBoat magazine about the Matthew Turner.

Have you had to renew your license lately? Tell us about your experience.

3 Comments

  1. Penny Clayton 8 months ago

    Congratulations, Woody! Good on YOU. Cheers 🙂

  2. Peter Detwiler 8 months ago

    Hooray for Woody’s perseverance! One minor factual correction, however. Cal Maritime is part of the California State University (CSU) like San Francisco State, CSU-East Bay, and Sonoma State, not the University of California (UC) system. But that’s no detraction from my admiration for Woody’s achievement. Bravo!

  3. Darrin Nicholson 7 months ago

    Job Well Done Sir!

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