Nautical School of Maritime Licensing president Mike Vanadia and his...

Nautical School of Maritime Licensing president Mike Vanadia and his wife, Amanda Vanadia, and school's founder Bill Rivera at the school on Feb. 15. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A long-standing Lindenhurst nautical training school that is the only U.S. Coast Guard training facility with a location on Long Island is expanding under the leadership of new owners.

Nautical School of Maritime Licensing founder Capt. Bill Rivera, 70, gave up the wheel in November after nearly 20 years of guiding the business. Now, Lindenhurst residents Capt. Mike Vanadia, 33, and his wife, Amanda Vanadia, 32, are leading the way.

The West Hoffman Avenue school provides a host of courses for recreational boaters, but focuses on a “six-pack” captain’s license that allows an individual to operate a boat with up to six passengers, such as a small water taxi or fishing charter. The master’s license offered by the school allows individuals to pilot larger vessels, such as ferries. 

The couple hope to expand to include courses for larger-scale vessels, such as tankers, and add practical on-the-water training. The institution, its curriculum and exams are all certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.

There are online schools, but, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman, the Lindenhurst school is the “only active training provider” on Long Island.

Mark Woolley, chief of staff for the president of SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, said the school fills a need and provides a niche career pathway for mariners.

“Schools like that are important to the maritime industry,” he said. “Locally they need mariners on the Fire Island ferries and the tour boats.” 

The voyage the Vanadias made to the school mirrors the journey Rivera took in starting the business — seeking to leave behind the corporate world and reinvent themselves.

Rivera was a New York University business professor and director of a Manhattan hospital when he decided to take early retirement in 2002.

“I had to rediscover myself,” the Amity Harbor resident said.

A part-time charterboat captain, Rivera put his captain's license to further use by first teaching the course and then founding the nautical school in 2005.

He sold the business last year due to health concerns. Four parties were interested, including a prominent ferry company, he said. But rather than selling to a corporation, he wanted the young couple to take over.

“My legacy means everything to me with this school I worked so, so hard to run,” Rivera said. “And as far as my legacy and leaving the school in the best hands, I felt they were the best people.”

The couple are high school sweethearts who grew up in Commack. Mike Vanadia is a merchant marine graduate from SUNY Maritime College who worked for a chemical tanker company in Connecticut. Amanda, an electrical engineer, worked for a utility company.

Having grown tired of corporate life and missing family and friends on Long Island, the couple last year bought a weekend home in Lindenhurst with an aim to relocate there permanently. 

A friend told him Rivera was looking to sell the company and Mike Vanadia said things “kind of lined up almost like fate” from there.

Amanda Vanadia, who has a bachelor’s degree in teaching, said the school was a chance to marry the couple’s skills and love of boating with their desire to help people.

“Obviously owning our own business is a big risk, but it seemed like the right opportunity we were looking and hoping for.”

The school bills itself as a “one-stop shop for mariners,” helping applicants with paperwork and providing CPR training, drug testing and referrals for physicals, all of which are required by the Coast Guard.

The school also holds classes in Riverhead, Manhattan, Westchester and Connecticut, providing licenses and renewals for about 500 individuals a year, Mike Vanadia said.

The 60-hour six-pack course costs $699 and is taught over nine consecutive days.

Dan O'Keefe, left, of Brightwaters, and Steve Lynch, of East...

Dan O'Keefe, left, of Brightwaters, and Steve Lynch, of East Islip, read navigational charts at the Nautical School. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

At a recent class, 15 students ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s studied navigational charts using the rudimentary tools of ancient mariners. The group included deckhands looking to move up the chain, recreational boaters seeking a fishing charter side hustle and an oyster farmer looking to meet an insurance requirement.

“I want you to be as familiar with these charts are you can possibly be,” instructor Jim Luisi, 68, of Copiague, told them.

Kelly Dall, 57, of Greenlawn, said she can't imagine learning about charts online.

Dall took the six-pack course at the school about four years ago and now runs a side business focused on teaching women boating safety and docking. Her daughter Ava, 21, also took the course and is now a first mate on a fishing charterboat in Montauk during the summer.

Dall said having a place for mariners to learn is crucial for boaters looking to supplement their income or start a business in retirement.

“Having the school on Long Island and that connectivity to the other captains and networking, that’s how my daughter found her jobs,” she said.

“It’s a place for all of us, the whole boating community.”

Nautical School of Maritime Licensing

  • New owners are taking over and expanding school.
  • More than 500 people get or renew their captain’s licenses every year through the school.
  • The school is Coast Guard-certified as the only school of its kind with a physical location on Long Island.
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