A passion for boating, fishing and study have combined to help a young South Coast fishing boat captain become TAFE Illawarra's Student of the Year.
Nicholas Cowley, 18, was recognised for his outstanding achievements at the annual institute awards on Thursday night.
Mr Cowley is already regarded as one of the youngest professional skippers in the country.
But on Thursday at City Beach Function Centre - just metres from the water - it was his academic achievements that earned him praise.
His passion for skippering boats motivated Mr Cowley to attend TAFE at night during his year 11 school studies.
His initial mission was to obtain his ticket to skipper by the time he was 18, the legal age required to do so.
TAFE Illawarra's acting institute director Lucy Arundell said Mr Cowley was one of many of TAFE Illawarra's outstanding students and employees who were formally recognised for their achievements and excellence at the institute's award ceremony.
She said student award winners came from TAFE Illawarra campuses in Goulburn, Nowra, Wollongong, Wollongong West and Yallah.
In Mr Cowley's case, his journey began at Moruya campus with a TVET course, which allows school students to study at TAFE.
He was awarded the Coxswain's Certificate and continued to study at TAFE Illawarra at night throughout his HSC.
He continued his TAFE studies after completing the HSC until he had a Certificate III in Transport and Distribution Coastal Maritime Operations Master Class 5 and Certificate II in Marine Engine Driving Grade 3.
Mr Cowley now works full-time in Narooma, taking up to 15 people to sea in charter boats, fishing for marlin and kingfish.
"TAFE was really good. It has given me a lot of opportunities," he said.
"Without my TAFE courses, I wouldn't have been able to leave school and then go straight into a full-time job. Fishing charters is what I love doing, it is perfect."
Mr Cowley thanked TAFE Illawarra's head teacher of Maritime, Transport and Logistics, Colin Tritton, who had helped him to structure his TAFE study program around the demands of his final years of high school.
Mr Tritton said he first met Mr Cowley when the schoolboy was studying for his Coxswain's Certificate studies in 2012.
"I found it so refreshing to find someone so young and committed, who knew the path he wanted to go down," he said.