If we have a driver’s license, then we know that there are specific laws and standard courtesies that are expected of us as a driver on the road. However, many new boating enthusiasts are unaware that there are very similar standard courtesies that are expected on the water. Knowing the basics of boating safety and etiquette will make your time out on the water safe and more pleasurable for not only you but also anyone else that you are sharing the water with.
Here are the important basics of boating etiquette and safety for new boating enthusiasts:
USE YOUR MANNERS WHEN LAUNCHING AND DOCKING YOUR BOAT
When it comes to boating everyone is excited to get out on the water as quickly as possible and when the day is done they are just as ready to get the boat docked and get home as quickly as possible. New boating enthusiasts often make many mistakes when it comes to launching and docking their boat because of their lack of experience. Boating manners for launching and docking your boat consist of efficiency, speed, and consideration.
Here are some simple tips that will help you to be an efficient, speedy, and considerate captain:
- Before heading out for your first day on the water, practice maneuvering your trailer in an empty parking lot where you can get comfortable with the techniques you will need to use when maneuvering your trailer down the boat ramp to get your boat to the water. Boat ramps often have long lines with other boating enthusiasts waiting for their turn to bring their boat down to the water as well – don’t let your lack of experience be the reason the line moves slowly that day.
- Take care of any tasks you can before you reach the boat ramp. Waiting behind the new boater who is at the bottom of the boat ramp taking extra time to load their boat and secure their belongings instead of launching has a similar feeling to standing in the only open line in the grocery store behind the person who wants to price check everything before they check out. Make sure you will be ready to launch before you head down the boat ramp.
- After you have launched look for an unused area that is out of the way of the ramp which you can steer your boat to and then quickly return your towing vehicle to the parking lot, so you can get out of the way of other boaters who are waiting to launch.
BE AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY BOATER
Much like throwing litter on the side of the road ruins the community for everyone, dumping litter and pollution into the water ruins the water for everyone – it contaminates the water, can kill fish and other wildlife, and takes away from the natural beauty of the landscape.
You can respect the water and other boaters and be an environmentally friendly boater by:
- Never allowing trash to be thrown overboard into the water. Make sure you bring a small trash can or bag that you can use to collect trash and set it aside while you are out on the water and properly dispose of once you have returned to land.
- Never allow any sewage to be dumped into the water. In order to ensure no sewage gets dumped into the water you will need to thoroughly inspect your boat and make sure it is fitted with proper sanitation facilities.
- Use caution when refueling. You want to make sure you do not spill any oil or gas into the water.
- Use caution when anchoring. You want to avoid anchoring your boat anywhere there are native reeds and grasses, which are often a support system to very delicate ecosystems.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO MAKE WAKE MISTAKES
It is easy to get carried away when you are out on the water and not realize how disruptive the waves your boat is creating are. Those waves can be annoying and potentially dangerous for other boaters out on the water if you are not paying attention and using caution at all times. A speeding boats wake can cause damage to other boats or injure other passengers.
Here are some common wake mistakes you can look out for according to Boating Magazine:
- Following too closely. If you are trying to overtake another boat and follow too closely behind that boat, you will have to cross a larger wake than you would if you were further back. This can result in a much rougher and bumpier ride, which will make it more difficult for you to maintain control of the boat.
- Going too fast. Going into a wake at too high of a speed can cause you to lose control of the boat as well. You will likely want to stay within your boat’s planning speed, which is typically between 14 and 18 miles an hour.
- Using the wrong angle to go over a wake. When you head into a wake you want to consider turning your boat to take the wake on a diagonal (at approximately a 3 to 45-degree angle). If you head into a large wake perpendicularly (bow-first), you may wind up launching the boat off the crest and landing hard in the trough.
- Sitting in the bow. Sitting in front of the helm (the location of the steering wheel) can be the worst place to be sitting when on rough waters. Rather, passengers should consider sitting at or just behind the steering console.
- Not alerting other passengers or boaters. If you know that you are about to head into or cross a large wake you should alert the other passengers on your boat, so they are able to brace themselves. If you are attempting to overtake another boat, you should sound your boat’s horn (once to pass on the starboard side and twice to pass on the port side) to alert the other boater.
OTHER SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS TO KEEP IN MIND FOR BOATING
- Always keep a lookout. There should always be at least one designated passenger who is watching for dangers that could come from any direction.
- Know the signals in the water. Just as it is important to study and understand the signs and signals on the road while driving, it is important to study and understand the buoys, beacons, dayboards, and signals other boaters may use out on the water.
- Be weather wise. Make sure you know what the weather report looks like before heading out on the water for the day. And if weather conditions appear to be changing try to get back to land as quickly as possible. You do not want to be stuck on the water in bad weather.
- Have life jackets ready and know how to swim. Of course, it is best to avoid going overboard while out on a boat. However, accidents do happen. It is important to be prepared and know how to properly handle a passenger overboard situation.
- Avoid alcohol. This should be a given; alcohol impairs our judgment. And yes, you can get a DUI while boating just like you can when driving.
- Get Insured. Although insurance is not required in Florida on a boat for personal use, it is still a very good idea to carry coverage to protect your personal liability, as well as injuries, in the event of a boating accident.