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Boating basics

Here in the Northeast, my boating season is short, and that’s why in the winter and early spring I walk into my yard. Somehow I think that if I stare at my boat I will make the time pass by more quickly. I grow wistful, I think about that first splash and all of the fun times we have in the late spring, in the summer and in the fall. Unfortunately my thinking doesn’t get the bottom painted or the trailer harnesses rewired, but I don’t much care. Thinking does help pass the time until my first splash.

Have you ever thought how odd it is that to drive a car one has to take a driver’s ed course, pass a road test, pass an eye exam, and pass a written examination? Yet to run a boat all you need to do is to climb aboard and turn the key? That latter rule is starting to change but whether or not your state has a legal safe boating course requirement, learning the basics is a good thing to do. It keeps you and your crew safe.

The Chinese proverb states that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The same holds true with boating basics. The best time to study boating basics in the winter. It gets dark early, it’s cold outside, and unless you’re far south you’re not on the water. Like the adage states, the second best time to learn about safe boating basics is now. Here are a few ideas.

Prep your boat

Follow the 5 P’s and you’ll rarely have a problem at the launch. Proper-preparation-prevents-poor-performance, so get your boat ready. Many preparations are simple things like ensuring that all trailer wiring is sound and that directionals, break lights, and running lights work. Your motor should be properly serviced with all fluids topped off, your batteries should be charged, and prop should be greased and inspected for dings. Safety gear should be stowed on board and that includes electronics like your radio, depth finder, chartplotter, and GPS. Anchors, lines, life vests and other items should be properly stowed aboard.

Check out your trailer. Be sure your hubs are lubricated, that bunks and rollers are functional, and that all corroded brackets have been replaced. Check the tire treds, inflation PSI’s, and review the valve stems to make sure there is no dry rot. Inspect the rims for rust for there is no joy in wrestling with lug nuts on the side of the road. If you see cracks in the sidewalls change your tires. All of these regular checks and more can be conducted in your own yard.

Boat trailering and ramp etiquette

Tempers flare at ramps, but if you’re in and out then everybody remains calm. When you arrive at a ramp be sure to follow the normal flow; in other words, go to the back of the line. While you’re waiting, offload your tackle and gear and stow it in the boat. Add your bow and stern lines, your fenders, and get your motor ready to trim down. Be sure the mundane things like plugs are in place, that you have your key, and that your float plan is filled out and filed with the Harbormaster. A helpful crew expedites the process.

Practice trailering your boat in the offseason so you are clear on your truck and trailer’s turning radius. Practice backing down the ramp so that your hands are in synch with your eyes, your boat and the ramp. While most folks focus on their boats and trailers, show your truck some attention. Be sure that clutches, breaks, and emergency brakes are in good repair, and that your 4-wheel drive easily shifts into either 4 Low or 4 High.

Rules of the road

Red right return, no wake in the harbor, vessels passing from the right have right of way, sail-powered boats have right of way over boats under power, most folks know that. But do you know the difference between cans versus nuns, how to navigate following seas, or the correct way to pass a slower-cruising vessel? If not, no worries, take a boating class.

Online classes are offered by a variety of excellent sources. The United States Power Squadrons ((USPS) which is a far cry from the post office), Boat Ed, BoatUS, and the venerable United States Coast Guard (USCG) all offer online recreational boating classes. Some courses cover basic subject matter, others review information for specific trips, while still many delve into precise information ranging from ‘how to use a marine radio’ to ‘hurricane storm preparation for your boat’. If you prefer a classroom setting then check with the USCG or your local marina.

The best time to take a safe boating course was in the winter. The second best time to take one is today. So get after it. Your crew, fellow boaters, and Harbormasters will benefit. You will, too.