Junior Mates Program Sounds Like a Good Match for Young Teens

Learn From Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association Captains
By RICK MELLERUP | Mar 23, 2018
Courtesy of: Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association

Being a teenager is tough. You’re trying to make good grades to get into the best college possible. You’re probably arguing with parents on a daily basis. You’re starting to date – talk about nerves!

But at least older teens have some benefits. They can drive. They can stay out later at night than they could a few years before. Most importantly, they can work, giving them the independence that only their own money can give them.

But early teens are still dependent on their parents for transportation. They’re probably restricted by early curfews. And they can’t work, which means they’re totally dependent on Mom and Dad for money.

Most of all, they’re bored. “There’s nothing to do!” they’ll constantly complain, as they have for many decades, especially for the century or so that most have been relieved of farm and household chores.

Luckily, Long Beach Island offers a number of options to keep 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds and even older teens busy, gain job training, make new friends and, most importantly, have fun.

LBI’s beach patrols offer Lifeguard in Training programs for young teens, sometimes called Junior Lifeguard programs, where they can learn the skills necessary to eventually get a job, and an important job at that, sometimes at the tender age of 16. Those programs are well publicized, thanks to the attention their tournaments receive in the press.

But less well known is a program run by the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association, its Junior Mate Program. It has been around for about a dozen years, according to BHCFA President Capt. John Lewis, attracting an average of about 15 kids a year.

It promises to teach kids to be better boaters and fishermen through a regimen of weekly summer classes and hands-on experience on the boats of the association’s member captains. It will teach youngsters to become responsible by making meetings, classes and on-the-job opportunities on time. It will also teach all the skills necessary to eventually become a paid mate in the BHCFA fleet. Finally, it is open to kids as young as 13 – 12, actually, in some cases.

Let’s talk money, always an important consideration. The cost per youngster is only $25, plus the cost of a required random drug-testing program including the all-important “pre-employment” test. But that $25 buys an awful lot.

Part of the program, for example, is an opportunity to earn a two-year CPR certification. The CPR training is free for Junior Mates; members of the public who join the class have to shell out $65. Another freebee for Junior Mates is a New Jersey Boater Safety Course, which costs parents or members of the public up to $85. Even the required drug-testing comes at a discount. When Junior Mates register for the drug-testing program, conducted by the American Professional Captains Association, they (or more likely, a parent or guardian) should call the APCA and tell the company they are becoming Junior Mates of the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association instead of just registering online. Why? Because they’ll receive a steep discount, having to pay just the agreed fee of $25 instead of $60. If you’re wondering why a 12-year-old would have to take a drug test, it’s  because of a) the law and b) this is 2018, and unfortunately 12-year-olds could be drug veterans.

Finally, Junior Mates and a parent, guardian or other guest will have the opportunity to participate, for free, in the annual Captain John Koegler (a late cofounder of the program) Fishing Tournament for a day of fishing and fun, the opportunity to earn prizes such as a high-quality rod or reel, and a party afterward at the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club.

It’s difficult to get a movie ticket, popcorn, candy and a soda for $25 these days!

But back to the serious purpose of the program, to train potential charter boat mates, because it provides serious training indeed.

The 2018 schedule is still being prepared. But in 2017, weekly classes were held on Thursday evenings (with one Wednesday thrown in) from the important registration meeting on June 22 through Aug. 17 (the Capt. John Koegler Fishing Tourney was held on Aug. 18). The classes included an introduction to fisheries management and the fishing industry, knots instruction, cast net throwing, safe practices afloat, reel maintenance and drag setting, offshore rigging, the aforementioned CPR and New Jersey Boater Safety Course classes, chart reading and navigation, bottom fishing and trolling, emergency evacuation, night navigation, boat maintenance, fish cleaning, fire safety, ropes and man overboard drills.

“They learn about man overboard drills in the classroom and then, when they’re on our boats, we have a man overboard drill,” said Lewis. “One of the mates goes overboard unannounced.”

That’s the key to the program – on-the-job, hands-on training. Junior Mates are assigned a boat and captain for the summer.

“We assign them; it is the kids’ responsibility to call them and set up trips,” said Lewis, adding that if there is space available, they can take as many trips as possible, even joining other captains in what is currently a 10-boat fleet.

“Don’t expect to get paid,” said Lewis. “This is on-the-job training.”

Remember, New Jersey law doesn’t allow 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds to work most jobs. Kids can keep tips from customers – if, that is, those tips don’t take away from what a regular mate would receive. But if a kid works hard and learns the necessary skills, he or she may eventually be offered a job as a first mate. Lewis quickly ticked off the fishing jobs a number of former Junior Mates have latched onto all over New Jersey, on commercial fishing vessels as well as charters.

Normally, the BHCFA website says, the training lasts for three years. But if a Junior Mate is older upon joining the program, he or she may soon be employed.

“Some of the kids step right up, become a mate after their first year,” said Lewis. “Some have become captains. Some come back to work when they’re in college.”

The fact is the young teens in the program will learn things that can be valuable in just about any future job.

“In addition to boating skills, they learn to deal with people,” said Lewis. “Some come in as little, shy kids. But they learn to have good times. They’re not really in the fishing business; they’re in the entertainment business. People pay good money to go on a fishing charter. They want to have fun.”

Now, fishermen typically love to teach kids the tricks of the fishing trade. Still, running such a program seems to be above the call of duty. Why do the captains of the BHCFA do it?

“It is a win-win for us, too,” said Lewis, who said the mates of the future have to be trained. “It’s not like it used to be, when kids were walking up to ask if there was work on our boats. And mates end up going to school (college), you lose mates every year.”

For more information about the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association’s Junior Mates program, visit the group’s website, bhcfa.net. The 2018 schedule has not yet been posted. but the website includes information on how to get drug-tested in advance – which is very important – plus registration and parental permission forms, contact information, pictures of and information about the BHCFA boats, and biographies of its captains.

Lewis said the program usually kicks off the third or fourth Thursday of June, depending on when kids are let out of school. Considering the number of snow-caused school closings this past winter, he figures the program will probably have its registration meeting on June 28 this year.

By the way, the website also has some instruction regarding basic knots so that Junior Mates can get a jumpstart on the program. The winds and weather of this March have kept most boaters and fishermen out of the water, but June will be here in the bat of an eye.

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