Owning a boat—no matter the size—is a big responsibility. Not only is there a ton of maintenance involved, but you need to have some skill, too. If you spend enough time out on the water, you’re bound to encounter shifting weather patterns, moody seas, or unexpected accidents—and that can spell major trouble for an unskilled boater. Which is the very reason why my husband and I were eager to hire a captain to show us the ropes after we bought our first boat. And I’m so glad we did.
We were both familiar with boats, having spent many summers sailing the California coast or cruising around one of the many beautiful midwestern lakes, but it had been a while since either of us brushed up on our skills. Turns out, it’s terribly easy to forget even the most basic rules of boating.
I’m now an adamant advocate for taking lessons, and truly believe that every boat owner should invest a little time and money in brushing up on their skills under the guidance of a real-life captain. Here are my top 10 reasons why.
1. You get to learn from a true expert
Even if you’ve spent your whole life around boats, a certified expert can probably teach you a thing or two. It’s easy to get complacent with engine checks or lazy about steering, and a captain can help to remind you of the proper way to handle a vessel. It really can’t hurt to brush up on some of the basics that you might take for granted.
2. You can tailor the lesson to your needs
If you feel a little uneasy about docking your boat on a windy day, or you’re nervous about dropping anchor, say so! Taking private lessons from a captain allows you to tailor the time you spend to your specific needs, questions, or concerns. You don’t have to start from square one.
3. You’ll brush up on safety
Keeping everyone safe onboard is always a top priority, but it’s easy to get complacent about safety over time. Getting a refresher on the best practices for keeping your passengers safe is a great way to spend an afternoon. Your friends and family will be forever grateful!
4. Learn about a new boat, inside and out
No two boats are exactly alike. If you recently purchased a new one, consider hiring a captain to walk you through the systems onboard. Learning how the electrical, mechanical, waste, and navigational systems work before you take your new boat out for a spin will surely save you from major headaches (and prevent accidents!).
5. Create checklists for proper inspections
It’s easy to get a little lazy about pre- and post-cruise engine and safety checks. Working with an expert to create a thorough inspection checklist will help to keep you and your guests safe, save you time, and help you stay ahead of any maintenance issues. We always run through the list our captain helped us create before getting underway and after we get back to the dock. It’s really helped us familiarize ourselves with all of the systems onboard.
6. Brush up on maritime law
Or at least the basic rules of the water. A professional captain will be fully up to speed on the latest boating rules and regulations and can save you from running into trouble with law enforcement while you’re out at sea. Laws are always changing, so it never hurts to get a refresher from a pro.
7. Learn best practices for high-risk situations
The most nerve-wracking moments in a boater’s life usually happen when someone falls overboard, rough seas kick up, or as they’re trying to dock. A captain can teach you best practices for navigating these hairy experiences safely. Hopefully, you’ll never have a reason to use the skills you learn during this lesson, but you’ll be glad to have them in your back pocket, just in case.
8. Bring everyone in your family up to speed
Hiring a captain to show the whole family the ropes is not only a fun way to spend a weekend, but a great opportunity to get everyone on the same page. Running through engine checks, safety drills, and docking procedures with the fam will pay off big time in the long run—your crew will run like a well-oiled machine!
9. You’ll establish a great contact for future questions and referrals
Chances are, your captain will be well-connected within the boating community—which makes them a great connection! Your captain will probably be happy to answer any follow-up questions after you complete your lesson or refer you to reliable mechanics, divers, brokers, etc. when a need arises.
10. It’s fun!
A day spent on a boat is a day well spent. Hiring a captain is a great excuse to learn more about your boat, pick up some handy new skills, and get out on the water. Chances are, you’ll feel even more enthusiastic about boating after your lesson. Feeling more confident and comfortable navigating the high seas will surely lead to more fun days spent cruising around with your friends and family (safely) in tow.
Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a total novice, taking a lesson or two from a bona fide captain is a great way to take your skills to the next level. You’ll probably have some fun while you’re at it, too.
Stay safe out there!