Powerboating may not be the most sociable of watersports but boy does it get the adrenaline racing. By Rupert Isaacson
BACK GOES the throttle, up goes the nose of the boat and you're away, speeding out across the water, leaping from wave to wave as if you were on a motorbike, eyes squinting against the wind, grinning maniacally. There's no question that power boating is an adrenaline fix of the first order. Especially in winter, when the sea is choppy and the ride is that much wilder.

Why learn to powerboat? Well, it's fun. But apart from that, a powerboat certificate from the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is a useful thing to have - especially if you intend to travel and work (ie bum round the world's beaches). As powerboats are designed for taking divers far out to sea and bringing them back again quickly, for marine and lake rescue and recovery work, as security back-ups to non motorised sea-going craft such as sea canoes and windsurfers, and as water-ski and parascending tow boats, those with licenses can show up at pretty much any marina anywhere in the world and find themselves a job.

Handling a powerboat is not easy and can be dangerous. It can also be a noisy, intrusive, macho powerplay guaranteed to alienate everybody within earshot or wave radius. If you want to learn powerboating, do it at an accredited school with some exclusive water where you won't ruin anyone else's day. The RYA has proficiency courses to stop cowboys from getting onto the water.

There are four certificates. Level one is a single-day introductory course, usually taken as part of the level two course which involves learning real skills. Levels three and four are advanced courses dealing with the skills and techniques required for specific operations, according to syllabuses devised by the governing bodies of various water sports such as the British Water Ski Federation, British Sub Aqua Club, British Canoe Union and Royal Life Saving Society. Rescue procedures figure high on the list of topics covered under the level three and four certificates, along with more advanced navigation and equipment maintenance.

Powerboating can be learned at any time of the year, as long as the weather is reasonably calm. There are several powerboating schools around the country - new ones seem to pop up all the time - both at sea and inland, on reservoirs. The safest bet is to stick to schools affiliated to the RYA (for a list, tel 01703 627400).

If you'd like to make a holiday of it, the Island Cruising Club in Salcombe, Devon (01548 843481) is a big sailing outfit, with up to 30 instructors at any one time, teaching all manner of watersports, including powerboating, sailing and windsurfing. It offers powerboat instruction up to RYA Level 4. All courses run over two days midweek or weekend and are residential. As well as the RYA certificate courses, once you have attained the level three you can sit the International Certificate of Competence, which entitles you to charter a powerboat anywhere in the world.

If you live in London, the Lea Valley Watersports Centre (0181 531 1129) offers powerboating from beginner to instructor level - six courses in all (non-residential) - varying from one and three days. The basic RYA certificates may be taken from levels one to four. After that, the instructor course is open to those with several years powerboating experience, while the international certificate of competence allows you to charter boats abroad. The centre has been running for 23 years.

For those living up north, the courses at the National Watersports Centre, on the beautiful Isle of Cumbrae off the Ayrshire coast near Glasgow, also takes you from complete beginner to RYA level four over three sets of two-day residential courses. Once you have attained level four the school can then organise private tuition in rescue and fleet control - important qualifications for anyone wanting to get into sailing or diving instruction. The waters in the island's bays are sheltered all year - especially on the mainland (eastern) side, and you stand a good chance of seeing porpoise, small mink whales and seals as you learn your boat handling skills.

power boating fact file

Lee Valley Watersports Centre

Banbury Reservoir, Greaves Pumping Station, North Circular Road, Chingford E4 8QB. Tel 0181 531 1129, fax 0181 527 0969

Tariffs: RYA Powerboat Level one or three (one day) - pounds 70; RYA Powerboat Level two or four (two days) - pounds 120; RYA Powerboat Instructor course (three days) - pounds 170; Junior Introduction to Watersports course (two days) - pounds 75. Prices include tuition fees and full use of all equipment.

National Watersports Centre

Cumbrae, Isle of Cumbrae, Largs, Ayrshire, KA30 8RW, Scotland. Tel 01475 674666, fax 01475 674720

Tariffs: Courses cost pounds 150-pounds 200 and all prices include tuition, use of equipment and full-board accommodation.

Island Cruising Club

Island Street, Salcombe, Devon, TQ8 8DR. Tel 01548 843481, fax 01548 843929.

Tariffs: Prices include all tuition fees, full use of all equipment, insurance, and accommodation, including all meals, and vary according to the time of year from pounds 120 to pounds 140 for two-day courses.