There are boat excursions you remember most fondly — perhaps one is an outing friends and family refer to again and again, another a trip your kids call “the best day ever.” What made these outings outstanding? Most great boating days don’t necessarily involve location (though that certainly helps). The times we recall with a smile are when everyone aboard was relaxed and comfortable and any snags were dealt with seamlessly.
If you want to be the kind of boater that generates admiration rather than being the skipper known as “the one who ran aground in the same area three times” the formula is rather simple. The keys to being a calm and capable boater resemble those techniques we use at work, in relationships, and during life in general. Alternatively, you can turn the table and use the skills that make better boaters when you’re onshore as well.
- Knowledge is Power
Educate yourself — take a basic boater safety course for starters and then take additional courses to improve both your knowledge and your skills.
- Strive for Perfection
Have a Vessel Safety Check performed on your boat annually to make sure it is as safe as can be. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons both offer this free service.
- Don’t Put Things Off
Season’s end is not the time to replace expired flares or replenish the first aid supplies. Safety and health are priorities.
- Know Who Has Your Back
Never leave the shore without informing someone where you’ll be and approximately what time you’ll be back.
- Gather up a Reliable Team
Yes, you’re the captain, but passengers and crew should never be kept in the dark. Before leaving port, gather everyone aboard. Show them where to find life jackets, cool water, extra sunscreen, and the first aid kit. Explain proper use of the VHF radio, demonstrate how to flush the head, and where to place their garbage. Point out the spot each person should go in case of an emergency, request that everyone look out for those who are frailer or smaller, and instruct those aboard to never dangle their arms and legs overboard.
- No Storm Lasts Forever
Check the marine forecast before your departure. If the weather is sub-par, stay put.
- Resist Peer Pressure
We can’t control the elements, so build a rain date into your boating invitations. This way rescheduling won’t be a big deal and you won’t think twice about canceling.
- Play to your Strengths
If your boat handles like a dream only when the wind is calm, don’t venture out on a blustery day. Plan to return home before dark if you navigate only by landmarks on the shore. Stay in your comfort zone as others aboard trust you to keep them safe.
- Don’t Get Cocky
If all is fine when you depart, continue to check weather conditions while underway and during the trip home. Always make note of the harbors and protected coves along your route in case elements change or someone feels ill.
- Respect Authority
If you’re hailed and ordered to stop by a law enforcement patrol boat, comply immediately.
- Be Heard
Equip your boat with every method of low-tech and high-tech communication available — mobile phone, VHF radio, personal locator beacon (EPIRB), a whistle, air horn, flares, and signaling mirror.
- Dress for Success
Actually, you should dress to survive! Wear your life jacket — it goes with every outfit. As a matter of fact, so does sunscreen, so apply (and reapply) as needed.
- Have a Backup
Everybody has to go sometime, even captains. If you need a brief reprieve, or wrench your back, who else on the boat knows how to get you back to port safely? Someone should.
- Don’t Let Your Guard Down
Something simple as a lack of hydration can fog up your brain and getting involved in a heated conversation or checking text messages can knock you off your game. Stay alert and aware — as captain you must take steps to prevent accidents and keep your passengers safe.
- Don’t be Indifferent
Call out periodically to be sure everyone aboard is safe and sound. Your team must know you’re approachable.
- Never Let Them See You Sweat
If a mishap happens, keep your head. A calm demeanor is contagious, but so is panic. Take a deep breath, assess the situation, speak authoritatively to enlist help and account for all aboard, and act decisively.
- Stay in the Moment
Your woes can wait and your to-do list will get done eventually. Push worries and obligations to the back of your mind and be mindful of how lucky you are. You love boating because it allows you to be on the water with loved ones, surrounded by natural beauty. So, soak up the moments and cherish the wonder of your floating world!
By Lita Smith-Mines