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Sea-time Success!

Red Cat Adventures backs new generation of skippers!

Twenty-five students from the Whitsundays’ senior schools are about to join an initial Mackay cohort of 31, as the first in a new generation of commercial skippers.

This sea-time success story is the result of an initiative developed by Red Cat Adventures owner, Asher Telford, in response to widespread housing and staff shortages across the Mackay and Whitsundays’ marine and tourism industries. 

a group of people on a boat posing for the camera

“When I came up with this idea staff levels were critical, but at the same time, we were facing a housing crisis, so even if skippers applied for our jobs, they were typically from out-of-town and couldn’t find accommodation,” Mr Telford said.

“Meanwhile we had local school students asking for work experience; my thoughts were: ‘well the local kids are here, they’re already embedded in the community, all they need is the training and opportunities to work in their own slice of paradise’,” he said.

“The housing crisis wasn’t going to be fixed in one year, but maybe in that time we could address the crew crisis instead, and there was a government body out there who could help.”

That ‘body’ was the Queensland Government’s Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, and the government-funded Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VETiS) program, through which students gain nationally recognised qualifications while still at school.

By accessing the VETiS program, students could be subsidised for components of a year-long, specially tailored Coxswain’s course, with sea-time provided aboard working vessels in Mr Telford’s nationally acclaimed Red Cat Adventures tourism fleet, and in a parallel program for the Mackay region, utilising his state-of-the-art vessel ‘Wildcat Mackay’.

The final piece of the puzzle was a finding a suitable Registered Training Organisation to deliver the tuition, for which Mr Telford turned to the Whitsunday Maritime Training Centre (WMTC). 

Fast-forward to this Friday, November 3, and that tuition is coming to an end, with the 25 participating Grade 11 and 12 students from Proserpine State High School, St Catherine’s Catholic College, and Bowen State High School, about to complete their final practical session before qualifying as ‘Coxswains’. 

a group of people on a boat

To get to this point, these students have undertaken four terms of classroom training in facilities based at the Whitsunday Sailing Club. 

Additionally, for two days each term, and in many cases across weekends and school holidays throughout the year, they have been privileged to access valuable practical training and work experience aboard Red Cat Adventures’ sailing vessel ‘Tongarra’ and custom-built ‘Thundercats’. 

With achieving the required sea-time for a Coxswain licence often proving the stumbling block for students who have otherwise successfully completed classroom components, Mr Telford said he hoped this approach would deliver real results. 

“I wanted to see these students trained in real life situations on real working boats, not just in a classroom setting and then dropped into the industry,” he said.

“I also wanted to show our region’s young people that the maritime industry is up there with the mines as a satisfying career path; this is a profession where Australians are very highly regarded worldwide, so they’re effectively opening up opportunities to travel the world by gaining a global skillset.”

WMTC Training Coordinator, Deb Duggan, said throughout the year, students had completed a number of quite difficult subjects, particularly for those new to boats, including coastal navigation, seamanship and vessel handling, collision regulations, legislation, and engineering, as well as separate ‘Shipboard Safety’ training, where they learned to launch life rafts, light emergency flares, fight fires, and practise in-water survival skills.  

“The students have had a fantastic, sometimes challenging year, and it has been awesome to watch them grow and gain confidence on the water,” she said. 

“We are all really proud of what they’ve achieved and look forward to seeing them turn their new-found knowledge into meaningful careers.” 

St Catherine’s Catholic College VET and Pathways Coordinator, Tara Congo, said the initiative had given participating students the opportunity and experience of a lifetime. 

“Congratulations to all of the students who worked so hard this year to complete their Certificate and get a head start in a career in the maritime industry – and thank you Red Cat Adventures for the opportunities you are providing our students,” she said.  

“It’s a perfect program to offer in a region like the Whitsundays with so many employment opportunities available to continue to develop their skills and training; we look forward to the program’s continued success next year.” 

Queensland Tourism Minister, Stirling Hinchliffe, also welcomed Red Cat Adventures’ training partnership with the Palaszczuk Government.

“It’s terrific to see Red Cat Adventures taking the initiative and building a pipeline of skilled young Queensland skippers to grow the State’s regional marine tourism workforce,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

“Skilled tourism workers are absolutely critical to maximising the 2032 Games’ two golden decades of opportunity for world-class Queensland destinations like the Whitsundays to shine on the global stage.”

Tourism Whitsundays Chief Executive Officer, Rick Hamilton, commended all involved, saying each had played a part in future-proofing the region’s marine and tourism industries. 

“Marine operations make up a huge part of the offerings here in The Whitsundays; showcasing this for local kids who are already interested in the marine industry is a fantastic way to entice them into a marine tourism job,” Mr Hamilton said. 

The official title for the qualification attained is Certificate II in Maritime Operations – Coxswain Grade 1 Near Coastal. The Coxswain licence is issued by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and enables the holder to command a commercial vessel less than 12 metres long, in inshore waters. Career pathways include the tourism, superyacht, fishing, and oil and gas industries. 

The Red Cat Adventures Group encompasses the multi-national-award-winning businesses Red Cat Adventures, Whitsunday Jetski Tours, and Wildcat Mackay. For more information, visit and

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