Whether you’re an experienced fisherman looking to rent a boat or are just getting started with your boating adventure, safety is always a primary concern in order to avoid the most common water mistakes. Common sense when using a boat isn’t so common especially if you’ve never used one before. Even if you know how to sail a boat, you likely don’t have much experience which means you’re not accustomed to all of the dangers and mistakes that you might make.
It’s often the small and avoidable mistakes that can easily turn a fun day out on the water into a disaster. So to help, we’re going to discuss some of the most common water mistakes and how to avoid them.
Failing to respect shallow water
If you’re unfamiliar with an area, then you might use some kind of equipment such as a chart or electronic chart plotter to help you understand the waters better. Most boat operators that have experience in the area will stay in marked channels so that they don’t take unnecessary risks that could lead to accidents or disagreements with their insurance company.
If you’re going to rely on charts, be they official or unofficial, make sure they’re at least updated. However, we’d recommend avoiding reliance on charts because it’s a good habit to rely more on your depth sounder instead. Once it has been calibrated correctly, you’ll get the most accurate readings for shallow areas and you’ll know how to avoid them to prevent an accident. If you’re not accustomed to using a depth sounder, then practicing is always the best way to get used to it. Use a chart to give you a rough idea of where shallow waters are and confirm it with your depth sounder. Then, steer away from those areas and stay in marked channels.
Boating within your skill level
It can be fun and exciting to go out on a boating trip. Whether it’s for fishing, to go snorkeling or even just having an adventure out on the water. Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to go out of their comfort zone in order to seek these thrills or find the best fishing spots. This is often a terrible idea as the further you go from the coast, the more dangerous it becomes. There have been multiple incidents involving boaters that have gone too far out with limited experience, resulting in fatal accidents. Similarly, other accidents have included inexperienced helmsman that have crashed due to their lack of experience, either going too fast for their skill level or lacking the navigational skills to maneuver during low-visibility conditions.
As such, it’s important to stay within your skill level, especially if you’re relatively new to boating. Don’t go too far in the water just to show off to your friends or to reach areas with fewer people. Don’t try to chase other boaters or more experienced friends, and always stay within your comfort zone. Always think about your passengers as well and don’t put them at risk.
Taking care of your passengers
Unlike driving a car, your passengers in a boat typically won’t be wearing any kind of protection outside of maybe a life jacket. Sure, your boat might have seat belts or sheltered seating areas, but a sudden start can still knock someone off their feet. Rough waters can also be troublesome for passengers as they feel more of the boat’s movement than the helmsman does. You should
be focusing on driving smoothly and within a comfortable speed limit so that your passengers can freely look around and enjoy the ride instead of holding on for their lives.
So here are a couple of ways to be a considerate helmsman:
- Before setting off, make sure all of your passengers are present so you don’t accidentally leave someone behind.
- Make sure you announce when you’re going to start so that people can sit down or brace themselves before you accelerate.
- When turning, go slowly so that you don’t throw your passengers around the boat or, even worse, off the boat and into the water.
- Don’t attempt any crazy maneuvers to show off or impress your passengers. Keep it simple and don’t risk anyone’s life for a few seconds of excitement.
- Be considerate of the boat as well as your passengers, especially if you’re only renting the boat.
- Remember that boats don’t have breaks, so don’t go too fast and stay within a comfortable speed limit while being aware of your surroundings.
- If your passengers are bow riding (sitting on the edge of the boat with their feet off) then get them back in the boat. Bow riding is illegal and also incredibly dangerous.
In short, take good care of your passengers. As the helmsman, they’ll look to you for advice on how to act when they’re on a boat. Offer them simple safety tips to make them more comfortable and enjoyable, and keep an eye on them to ensure they’re not doing anything dangerous or unsafe on the boat.
Always pay attention
If you’ve ever driven a car then one of the golden rules is to always pay attention. Out on the water, you might think that this doesn’t apply because there are fewer boats, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Some could argue that situational awareness is even more important when you’re out on the water. Not only do you have to worry about other boats, but the lack of a sudden brake on a boat means that you need to plan well in advance if another vessel is in your path. The last thing you want is to end up in an accident, so always pay attention to your surroundings.
There are plenty of small things to pay attention to when you’re out on the water. Whether it’s the depth sounder to check for shallow waters, the weather on the horizon or even your passengers, boating is arguably a lot more difficult than driving. Make sure you’re always keeping an eye on your situation and make the safety of you and your passengers a priority.
Keep an eye on the weather
When you’re on land, the sight of a storm can be worrying but at least you have shelter to keep you safe. Out on the water, a storm is a hundred times more worrying. The last thing you want is to be stuck out on the water during a heavy wind and rain storm with your small rental boat. Even if you have shelter to keep you safe, the chances of your boat turning over or being caught in large waves are much higher.
Check The Local Weather Here
If you hear thunder or see lightning in the storm, then keep in mind that it can strike at least 20 miles from what you can visibly see. Never take the risk of staying close to a storm and make sure you return to shore as quickly as possible when you notice that a storm is brewing. If you want to stay close to it for fishing purposes or because the waters haven’t been disturbed yet, then just remember that you can’t outrun a storm. It will catch up to you and before you know it, you’re going to be wading through rocky waves and heavy rain. If you notice a storm coming then make sure you pack away all of your fishing gear, turn around and head back to shore.
Learning to anchor
Anchoring might seem like an easy task–just drop the anchor and wait until it hits the floor, right? While that’s the gist of it, there are some very small mistakes that you could avoid if you pay more attention. For instance, if someone’s belongings are stored in the anchor line coil, then it’s going to knock their stuff off the boat or even damage it when the line comes taut. Even worse, if someone’s leg or arm is inside the coil then the line will quite literally shear it off.
Here’s some basic advice on how you anchor properly:
- Make sure nothing is in the line coil before throwing the anchor overboard.
- Be considerate with anchoring and make sure you’re not too close to other vessels as the weather and tide could move your boat around.
- Don’t drop anchors on top of other people’s anchors.
- If an area says no anchoring, don’t anchor! This is usually because there are power lines in the water, or because it’s private property.
- Make sure you look for a bare sandy spot instead of trying to anchor on patch coral.
- Once you drop the anchor, gently back down to make sure it’s set instead of just assuming it is.
- When throwing the anchor overboard, make sure the other end is actually tied to your boat so you don’t lose the anchor in an embarrassing way.
These are some of the basic anchoring tips that you should keep in mind at all times. As long as you’re being considerate and safe with your anchoring, you shouldn’t find this to be a challenging or difficult task. However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Read our Boat Anchoring Article
Understand the limitations of your boat
If you could do everything with a single boat then the entire industry would be focused on a single type of boat. That’s not the case and it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type of boat so that you can make the best use of it. For instance, don’t expect to go fast in a pontoon and don’t just assume that you have the skills to maneuver a speed boat with limited experience.
Make sure you understand the limitations of your boat in relation to your skill. If you’re going to hire a boat for something specific such as fishing, then it’s best to choose a fishing boat which is designed for the task. These typically have more space for your gear and more comfort for long-term fishing as opposed to other boats that aren’t equipped for the task.
While understanding the limitations of your boat can seem like more of a comfort consideration, it can lead to safer experience out on the water. For example, if you try to fit too many people into a boat made for just two people, then you might end up going over the recommended gross load capacity, resulting in an unstable boat that rocks back and forth on rough waters. This could result in capsizing the boat which could result in major accidents. Similarly, pushing an engine beyond what it should normally be capable of could result in damage to the engine or the boat itself.