So you’ve got your new boat and you are ready to head out on the water. Great,
Congratulations! Let’s go over some boating basics to make all of your future trips
safe and enjoyable.
First, know the weather forecast and the wind conditions. If there’s a chance of a
serious storm, don’t get too far away from safety. Being out in the middle of a body
of water in a lightening storm is not safe. So in this case, get yourself back to shore,
find a harbor, and take a break on land until the storm passes.
Before leaving shore, consider who are your emergency contacts, and if you have a
breakdown, whom can you call? This is especially important on larger bodies of
water. If you have the number for a tow service from a marina, it can make life a lot
easier in case of an unexpected problem.
Let’s consider some things you’ll need to have on board. First, make sure there are
US Coast Guard Approved life jackets on board. One for each person, and if you have
kids, make sure you have child sizes, and if you have a baby, the baby should have its
own special life jacket. In cooler climates, make sure everyone has dry clothes and a
jacket or fleece.
Next, make sure you have an anchor, anchor line, and bow and stern lines. If you are
going to do activities behind your boat like wake boarding or tubing, make sure you
have a towrope.
Other items to consider are a first aid kit, a simple tool kit, and some rags for
keeping things dry and clean.
Ok, you’re ready to start? First things first. How’s your fuel level? A full tank is best
so you don’t have to think about it. Next if you have an inboard engine, or inboard
outboard engine, open the engine cover and take a look and a smell. Is there water
in the bilge? If so you’ll want to turn on your bilge pump once your engine is started.
Does it smell like gas fumes? If yes, you need to find out why. Gas fumes are
extremely dangerous and a boat fire is serious. Smells ok? Great. At this time turn on
your blower. This removes any fumes from the engine compartment, and along with
your open cover, you’ll give plenty of ventilation to make the start up safe.
Visually inspect the engine for any problems. No loose wires, no loose belts, no
leaking fluids. If everything looks good, close your engine cover and latch it. If you
have an inboard outboard, or outboard motor, use your power tilt and lower your
drive into the water so the propeller is submerged. With your blower still on, put
your shifter in neutral and give a little throttle and turn the key to start your engine.
Once it starts rev your engine just enough to keep it running smoothly, but don’t
over-rev a cold engine. Once it smooths out, put it in neutral and let it idle to warm.
Now is the time to turn on your bilge pump. Turn it off once the water is removed it
should only take 30 seconds or so. At that time, you can also turn off your blower.
Once your engine is started and warming up, go ahead and untie your bow and stern
lines, and bring any bumpers inside the boat. Be certain there are no ropes hanging
in the water that could get dragged into the propeller, and secure all lines in storage
compartments or on the floor where they’ll stay put. Keep ropes out of walking
areas. Ropes on hard surfaces create a slip hazard when you walk on them.
So at this time you are clear to push away from the dock, drop your mooring line, or
walk your boat to deeper water to begin. Once everyone is safely on board and
sitting, or at least hanging on, with your engine at idle, ease your boat into gear.
Remember your power tilt is still up so keep your engine speed low. As you get into
deeper water, go ahead and lower your tilt fully.
Once you have a destination in mind, and you are a safe distance from other boaters
and swimmers, push smoothly on the throttle and get up to your desired speed.
Keep in mind, 150 feet is the minimum distance you want to be from other boats
when you are running at any speed other than idle. Be considerate of others, and
give wide berth. Also, if you seem to be on a course that is the same as another boat,
be courteous and just adjust your direction so you turn in to go behind it.
Next begs the question, how fast? It depends what your objective is. If everyone is
relaxing and talking, just choose a low cruising speed where everyone can continue
talking. You’ll reach your destination, and you won’t disrupt the relaxed vibe. If
you’re in wavy conditions, you’ll want to choose low to moderate speeds so your
bow rides high in the water and gives a smooth ride without pounding. If you’re in
really wavy conditions, “quartering” the waves at an angle versus head-on will likely
make your ride safer and smoother as well.
What about higher speeds? Think about it like being a passenger in a car. Speed is
ok, but no one likes to get thrown around or have to grab onto a handle. Keep it
smooth. Like in your car, slow down for sharp turns, and accelerate out of the turns
to make it feel comfortable.
Be on the lookout for shallow water. This may be a sandbar, a rock shoal, or a reef. If
you’re not sure, go slow. Hitting a shallow area at speed is hazardous, and can cause
very costly damage to your outdrive and propeller.
What about no-wake zones? These are areas that tend to be narrow like a channel,
going under a bridge, or pulling into a marina. Respect no wake zones and stay at
idle or slightly above, and it makes it more enjoyable for everyone, and you’ll be
obeying the law.
What about anchoring? With most boats, you’ll anchor from the bow. Head into the
wind and position yourself upwind of your desired placement. This makes it so lines
don’t go under the boat and get tangled on your propeller or outdrive. Use a long
anchor line so your anchor doesn’t just drag. The minimum ratio is 5 to 1, but 7 to 1
is optimal. So for every foot of depth, you’ll want 5 to 7 feet of length. For instance if
the water is 10 feet deep, you’ll want your anchor line to be 50 to 70 feet long. If you
are anchoring in 20 feet of water, your anchor line should be 100 to 140 feet long.
When you are ready to depart after swimming or relaxing, make sure everybody is
on board as you are pulling up anchor. Remember to run your engine compartment
blower for 30 seconds or so to remove any fumes before starting. Once started, turn
off your blower.
Get your anchor properly stowed and get all of the lines put away so they don’t drag
in the water and suddenly get tangled in the propeller. Also make sure all life
jackets, tubes, floaty toys, etc. are properly secured so they don’t blow out.
So let’s assume you had a very enjoyable, very safe, and very courteous day out on
the water in your boat. You are coming back to shore to your mooring, your slip, the
dock, or your trailer. Slow your boat down early and come to an idle. Remember,
moderate-low speeds sink your drive and propeller to its deepest, so slow down to
idle early to avoid issues, and this also gives time for your engine cool down.
As you get into shallower water, use your tilt to raise your drive and propeller so
you don’t hit bottom. If you had wet people getting in and out all day, turn on your
bilge pump. In very shallow water, raise your drive so you still have some bite with
your propeller, but slide it in and out of gear to keep you moving forward slowly and
After unloading everyone and all of the gear, take a towel and wipe the water off of
the entire boat and upholstery. It will keep it nice for the next time you go out. Hang
life jackets and lines in such a way that they dry and don’t get moldy. If you put life
jackets or tubes, etc. in the back of a pick up truck, or they are in a towed boat, be
sure they are secured so they don’t blow out on your ride home.
So let’s review a great care-free boating day. First, know your weather. Have life
jackets for everyone. Have an emergency contact, and start with plenty of fuel. When
starting, use your blower, and keep people clear of the propeller. Remember to start
with your power tilt up, and lower it as it gets deeper. Always be courteous to other
boaters and give way, go slow in no wake zones, and give wide distance at speed.
Choose a speed that makes sense for your conditions, and for your passengers.
When anchoring, use plenty of rope. Always make sure all lines are inside the boat
to avoid tangling in the propeller. When you finish your day, bring your boat to an
idle well outside the shallow zone. Use your power tilt, as it gets shallow. Lastly,
unload everything from the boat, and a couple of people with towels can wipe down
an entire boat inside and out in a few minutes. Store life jackets and ropes so they
can dry out and breathe.
If you follow this basic formula, it will always apply to every outing, and it will make
you a safe and courteous boater that everyone will love to go out with. Enjoy your