10 Quick Tips for First-Time Boaters

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A family spends the day on their boat on a lake

Boating is a great way to break free from ordinary. It means spending time outdoors, leaving your stress at the lake, and becoming one with the water. But boating can also be quite intimidating, especially at first. If you’re a first-time boater, here are 10 quick tips to help you stay safe and enjoy your experience.

1. Be aware of the weather at all times

Check it before you leave home and before you go out on the water. Then keep an eye on the weather throughout the day. Whether you’re on a lake, a river, or the ocean, storms can sneak up on you. And being on the water during bad weather can be dangerous.

2. Get out early

Launching your boat for the first time (even the first dozen times) can be one of the more daunting things you do as a boater. Load your boat ahead of time and get out on the ramp early. That way, you can take your time steering your trailer to the launch point and avoid the awkward stares of other impatient boaters waiting in line.

3. Come prepared

As a boater, it’s always better to be overprepared. That doesn’t mean overloading your boat. But it means having adequate snacks, water, towels, blankets, sunscreen, and layers of clothing. It’s also a good idea to keep a map and a spotlight on the boat in case you ever need to find your way back to the dock.

4. Always have enough life vests

Life jackets are the single most important piece of equipment on your boat. More than two-thirds of all boating fatalities are drownings. And 90% of drowning victims weren’t wearing a life jacket. Make sure life jackets fit properly and that they’re in good working condition. Include an extra life jacket on your boat and have a throwable flotation device immediately accessible.

5. Secure your keys, wallets, and phones

Avoid learning the hard way that phones, wallets, and keys don’t float. Secure your personal belongings in a large waterproof zip lock bag and store them in a closed compartment on your boat for safekeeping.

6. Have a backup driver

Always have another person on your boat that knows how to drive. Go over the details of your boat with your guests and let them know what they can expect from the outing. Point out landmarks and teach them to use the boat’s GPS functions or a map of the area.

7. Ensure fuel efficiency

If you thought running out of fuel on dry land was frustrating, you definitely don’t want to experience it when surrounded by water. Make sure that your boat has enough fuel to get you where you need to go and back again. And to increase fuel efficiency, drain your boat of unnecessary water, balance your load, and reduce your boat’s weight.

A family spends the day on their boat on a lake

8. Keep your boat clean

To keep your boat seaworthy for many years to come, it’s important to properly care for it after you take it out of the water. Get a few cleaning brushes that are sturdy, but that won’t damage the finish of your boat. And select environmentally-friendly soaps to keep your boat and the water clean.

9. Check and clean your exhaust system regularly

It's important to check all exhaust systems and check all fasteners, supports, and plumbing regularly to avoid flooding or dangerous carbon monoxide leaks. It’s also a good idea to keep a prop wrench and tool set on the boat for the small tune-ups and repairs that sometimes arise.

10. Keep a boating journal

Every captain worthy of his or her craft should keep a boating journal to record the memories and details of their journeys. A boating journal can chronicle weather conditions, passengers, places to revisit, fuel use, and maintenance logs. It’s also a great place to put helpful safety and contact information, equipment lists, and reminders.

The only difference between a novice and experienced boater is the amount of time spent on the water. Learn the basics, be responsible, and have fun as you develop a passion for everything boating that can last a lifetime.