Boating is a rewarding hobby and sport. Some of the best times are spent on the water with your friends and family while fishing, waterskiing or just cruising. Learning to boat and get around on the water is a lot like learning to drive a car. You’re excited to have the freedom to travel, but a little worried to take over the controls. Being apprehensive when you first start driving a boat is understandable. There are some tips you can follow to make boating a little easier and safer while you improve your new skills.
Learning from an experienced boater can help speed up the process. However, watching other boaters that have boats similar to yours and asking questions is another option. There are many state and national boating education programs offered as well. Here are a few links to organizations offering boating courses that might interest you:
- U.S.C.G. Boating – boating safety resource center
- Boat-ed – offers boating safety courses and online tests for boat license or boater safety certification
- BoatSafe – offers boating & navigation courses
- American Boat Operators Course – offers boat education safety course online or home study
- US Power Boating – offers power boating education and instructor training
- Mariners Learning System – offers courses for Charter Boat Captain’s license
- Discover Boating Courses – offers links to boating courses by state
If practical, you should start out learning in a small boat. They are easier to control, making even the most nervous beginner more comfortable.
Choosing an area with calm water and few boats will give beginners a chance to learn the feel of the boat without added pressure of handling choppy waves. If getting out of the marina or dock area leads you through rough water, just throttle slow until you find a cove or calm water to practice.
Be aware of the weather reports and watch for unexpected adverse weather that might pop up. Being on the water during a rainstorm or heavy winds is dangerous, so don’t wait until the last minute to dock your boat.
Wear a life jacket, and make sure everyone on the boat does. Nine out of ten drownings happen when no life jacket is being worn.
Basic stuff to have on your boat: U.S. Coast Guard-approved, marine-type fire extinguisher, a visual distress signal if you are on coastal waters, a horn to make sound, a throwable PFD (life ring), first aid kit, back-up plugs, anchor & line and spare keys.
File a float plan. Be sure to let someone know where you’ll be boating and when you’ll be back. In the case of an emergency, this will give rescue personnel a better idea of where you were going and how long you’ve been gone, giving you a better chance of being found.
Get your boat ready to put in the water by making sure you put the plug in the boat. Your boat should not be in the water without the plug in.
- Remove straps and tie-downs on trailers and engines.
- Load your gear into the boat while it’s out of the water. It’s easier and safer than lugging coolers, bags, etc. through water or bending down from a dock.
- Back your boat down the ramp to get your boat in the water so your engine is in the water and the boat is not floating off the trailer. Be sure everything is working properly before you release the boat from the trailer.
- Run the blower to make sure there are no fuel vapors in the engine compartment.
- Set the kill switch to run.
- Start your boat with the drive mechanism in throttle so the propeller is not turning while you’re on the trailer.
- Unhook the boat and release the bow hooks that keep the boat on the trailer.
- Boat and vehicle driver now work together to gradually separate boat from the trailer. Vehicle driver slowly back the boat further down the ramp until it is floating. At that point, the boat driver can gently give the boat a little reverse throttle to slip the boat off the trailer.