All crew members, including Skippers, must complete the training workshop to learn research protocols. Skippers donate the use of their boats and nautical expertise for THE DOLPHIN PROJECT research surveys so the crews can accumulate research data and photographs. As with all vessels, the safety of the passengers/survey crew is paramount for each Skipper.
Powerboats ranging from 16-35 feet are used for surveys. Each vessel is required to be legally registered, be annually inspected by the United States Power Squadron or the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and have all the legally required safety features onboard. A seamanship course is recommended for all Skippers but is not mandatory. A Skipper chooses two adjoining zones from TDP website that is convenient for their vessel to cover for the research survey. Skippers are expected to know the weather, tides and currents of their zone areas to ensure the safety of the survey teams and their vessels.
Skippers need to print out the TDP Emergency-Safety Checklist, Skipper Checklist and their assigned Zone Charts. The Skipper Checklist offers reminders for required boat equipment needed for surveys.
The Emergency-Safety checklist gives guidelines for radio use in case of emergency and important numbers to call if an injured dolphin is sighted or dolphin abuse is witnessed. A VHF radio is required for safe operation of a vessel. In many cases a cell phone will work but cannot be relied upon depending on your location in the zone.
The Team Leader will coordinate with the Skipper as to location of the boat, the time to meet at the dock, restrictions and amenities of the boat and pass on that information to the crew.
All expenses incurred for TDP surveys are tax deductible. If preferred, a small stipend is offered to skippers = $2 times the 'length of boat' times '# of engines'.
The Dolphin Project operates under the guidance of a NOAA - National Marine Fisheries Service research authorization, referred to as the 'Permit'. Those crew members with certified experience may have their names listed on the Permit.
If a Permitted crew member is onboard a survey boat, that vessel may cruise within the 50-yard limit designated by the US Marine Mammal Protection Act and, with caution, turn and follow dolphins. This survey is designated as a PERMIT survey.
If no Permitted crew member is onboard a survey vessel, the Marine Mammal Protection Act must be observed. This survey is designated as an ABUNDANCE survey.
Staying 50 yards from a dolphin in a narrow creek or river is difficult on Permit and Abundance surveys. Proceed with caution at all times. If a safe distance from dolphins cannot be achieved, the sighting should be aborted.