Last Updated on June 6, 2020 by Amit Abhishek
How to drive a boat for the first time? Let’s face it, you want to rent a boat and went through a boating course. But don’t learn enough to feel confident and feel safe on the water.
I have been there, you are nervous and doubt your ability to pilot your boat. Now you desperately need some final tips to feel confident behind the wheel steering the boat.
Relax! After all, boating is all about fun, leisure, and relaxation. Plus you would not like to ruin all the excitement of everyone who comes to celebrate your big day as the captain of your boat.
Driving a boat is different than driving a car, but it is not that complex one can not handle. Just check for the different indicators ( Know your gauges ) such as oil pressure, RPM and engine temperature.
Before you start the engine make sure you allow for ventilation. Simply turn on your ventilation blowers a few minutes prior to starting the main engine. This is a safety measure to avoid accidental fire and explosion.
Before you are ready to leave just check for the weather condition. Being a beginner the last thing you want is a rough sea when you drive a boat. Safety should be your first and topmost priority.
Getting started, a quick familiarization with marine terms will help. Some of the key terms to know are:
- Bow: The forwardmost part of a ship or boat
- Aft: If you go in a boat, the back portion of the vessel is called aft.
- Beam: The measurement of the width of a vessel.
- Port: It is used to refer to the left side of the boat.
- Starboard: The right side of a boat.
Read the complete list of boat terms here.
- How Old Do You Have To Be To Drive A Boat?
- Getting Started: A General Safety Issues To Consider
- On The Water: How To Drive A Boat Out Of Berth & Beyond
How Old Do You Have To Be To Drive A Boat?
Different states have different laws in terms of minimum age for boating. For example, the minimum age limit to drive a boat in Arizona is 12 years while 16 in Texas and 18 in Newyork without certification.
Similarly, in 12 US states, there is no law governing the minimum age limit to operate a boat. These include states such as Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North and South Carolina.
In some states like Newyork and Oklahoma, you can start early at the age of 12 but up to 18 years one needs to get a special certification to drive a boat. While anyone above 18 can drive a boat without such a certificate.
Similarly, throughout the US, there is no age restriction to operate non-powered vessels except for the four states of California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah.
On the contrary, California has the least strict rules in terms of a boater education course. While in 22 US states you are required to show valid proof for successful completion of the boater education course.
These states include but not limited to Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Hawaii, District of Columbia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Arkansas.
Similarly, not all states require a mandatory boat operator license. States which do require them are; Alabama, American Samoa, Delaware, District of Columbia, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Vermont.
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Getting Started: A General Safety Issues To Consider
Driving a boat is different than driving your car. A boat needs to cut through the water to move forward. In the process, the boat displaces water away from its bow.
While there happen to be a handful of accidents each season. It is better to be prepared and take account of all safety precautions.
This includes following a pre-departure checklist, be aware of water conditions, comply with U.S navigation laws, do not overload and went for a free US coast guard vessel safety inspection.
While some of the critical safety instructions to follow are; having a separate life jacket for each individual ( 13+ ), have safety gear, prepare a float plan and do not drink and drive.
A float plan is a set of critical information about the boat, crew, duration, communication channel, safety equipment, planned route, team leader, name and address which you left with someone onshore to inform concerned authorities in need.
By law, there should be a sufficient number of life jackets on a boat for each individual. In some states, the law also requires kids below 13 to compulsorily wear a life jacket.
The US coast guard estimates about 80% of total fatalities are reduced by wearing a life jacket. Modern life jackets are slim, easy to put on or off and comfortable to wear. So no more funny excuses!
1 ) Be Prepared: Safety Gear For Your Next Boating Trip
When you drive a boat it is your responsibility to carry all safety equipment on board. The best thing about an emergency is that you just can’t predict when will it happen.
Maybe you never had to face an emergency in your lifetime or it may happen on the first day of boating. So it’s essential to have some safety equipment on board to be prepared for any situation.
Here is a list of all the safety equipment you should have on your boat:
- Flashlight: Have a heavy-duty flashlight on your boat with extra batteries. This will help you see in the dark, signal or if you run out of the fuel.
- First Aid Kit: Having a proper first aid kit is essential to own safety in event of an accident or some emergency. You should also ensure that everyone on board has some knowledge of how to use them.
- Tool Kit: You never know when will you need to fix something on a boat. In emergency having a proper tool kit can help ensure quick recovery from any malfunction.
- Throwable Floating Device: For a man overboard situation you need to act quick and smart. Having a throwable floating device then can be used to help a person from drowning.
- Life Jackets: The USCG’s law makes it compulsory to have an adequate number of life jackets on board. This includes a minimum of one life jacket for each person. Furthermore, it also insists on continuously wearing a life jacket for kids below 13 years.
- Signaling Device: Signaling device such as flares, mirror, SOS beacon, radar reflector, and water whistle helps a lot in quick rescue when you lost adrift at sea. Make sure you have complete flare kit accessories ( Buy one on Amazon ! ) to alert coast guards/marine authorities.
- Whistle: A whistle came in handy both as a regular signaling device or in an emergency. Under conditions such as dense fog or very low visibility, it helps a lot to save the day.
- Fire Extinguisher: Just because you are surrounded by water it does not means you are safe from the risks of fire. You don’t drive a boat on water/air it needs fuel and there are electric circuits on board at the risk of fire. Not just you should a fire extinguisher onboard but should know how to operate it.
- Ropes: Ropes are essential on the boat they are used for a number of tasks including rescuing a person fallen overboard.
- Knife/Cutting Device: A knife came in handy in a number of applications if you are lost stranded in the ocean.
- VHF Marine Radio: In an emergency, you can use a VHF marine radio to ask for help, prompt response and send a distress signal in the form of MAYDAY call sign. Find the list of best VHF marine radio here.
2 ) A Guide On USCG’s Steering And Sailing Rules
The US Coast Guard navigation rules regarding steering a ship/boat states about; conduct of vessels under normal condition, the conduct of vessel in relation to other and conduct of vessels in restricted visibility.
These rules apply to all vessels under US waterways. This includes inland water, lakes and ocean within the special economic zone.
At all times, a vessel must maintain a watchful lookout for any other vessel available in the vicinity. Further, all vessels must avoid over speeding and proceed at a safe speed.
This can be based upon the traffic density, visibility, maneuverability, draft and weather condition.
Being the pilot/captain of your vessel it is your responsibility to keep bay of vessels which are not under command, are engaged in fishing or are restricted in her ability to maneuver.
It is your duty to do a constant risk assessment and take necessary action to avoid the collision. When passing through an area with high traffic density; one should avoid overtaking other vessels.
Even when you do overtake other vessels under normal conditions; maintain a safe distance. Similarly, if you see the vehicle behind is trying to overtake; give way for the vessel to pass.
When you drive a boat in or near low visibility areas; make sure you take extra precautions to avoid head-on or side collisions. This is thus recommended to proceed at a slow speed.
One should also be prepared to make sudden extreme maneuvers if required. In addition, all power-driven boats should turn on its navigational lights; at the stern, sides, masthead/forward.
You can read full USCG navigation rules from link over here.
3 ) A Simple Rule To Avoid Overloading Your Boat
A boat can take as much weight for which it is designed for. Every boat has a limit to which you can load. It is not though you can’t load beyond a limit, it just makes your vessel unstable.
The US federal law wants you to load within limits. Boating is all about refreshment, parties, fishing, day cruising, water sports, and other leisure activity such as spending quality time with friends and family.
Now when you spend a big sum of money buying or renting a boat. The least you want is to have an accident. So when you are going for your first boat ride as the captain.
It is your responsibility to play safe and avoid overloading your boat. The best way to find the maximum passenger and weight limit; is by following the capacity plate on your boat.
Almost all boats have these plates placed at the helm; especially in the US where it is compulsory to have such plates for small and medium boats.
It contains all the key information concerning your boat such as; model no, batch, serial no, capacity, maximum speed, horsepower, total weight limit, and passenger capacity.
You can also find this information in your boat manual. This comes in handy when you have a large boat or is outside the US. Some manufacturer also provides a separate safety manual.
4 ) One Last Inspection: A Pre-Departure Safety Check
Before you finally proceed with your plan to pilot your boat; you need to perform one last safety check. This includes steps such as checking the fuel oil level, topping it up if needed and check charge for your batteries.
In addition, you must see whether all passengers are accounted for on boat; inform them of possible dangers and plan for the day, practice propeller safety, have all boat certificates on board and vent off the fumes.
Never let anyone board your boat when the engine is running. Similarly, you should stop the propeller when swimming close to the propeller or in man overboard situation.
Only once you have checked and satisfied you should finally drive a boat. Once you have everybody on board; start the engine and let it run on idle for 1-2 minutes.
In the meantime check whether everything is within the working/regular parameter. make sure there is no foul smell or the smoke coming from the exhaust. Once satisfied prepare to leave the berth.
On The Water: How To Drive A Boat Out Of Berth & Beyond
Just like with the cars it is easy to drive a boat in open waters; then to dock or take it out of the berth, marina or pontoon. No matter how confident or skilled you are; I see people struggling when it comes to maneuvering in and out of the berth.
When leaving a berth the method to use depends on the wind condition, the position of the boat and current. Make sure you have your boat fenders in place to protect against any scratch or damage.
In a situation where there is the wind blowing off the dock; simply release all the lines and let it go. As the boat drifts away and acquires some safe distance from the platform.
Start your engine and depending on your position engage a positive reverse or forward drive. From my own and other’s experience what I have found that; it is easy to leave backward than moving forward.
It happens because the effect of winds on the bow is greater than on stern. If you remain unaware the bow will turn as you proceed to expose your stern to the edge of the platform.
In no wind, condition engages reverse and slowly steer away from the berth, marina or pontoon. Once you came to a safe distance balance ( make it straight ) your boat and proceed.
The fender will take on the pressure to help you turn the boat. Now when the wind direction is against the dock; release all lines except one at the stern pulling the slack as you reverse.
Now when you reverse slowly this will push your stern into the dock while your bow will move away. Now once you have rotated the boat about 45 degrees, release the stern line and proceed.
1 ) Things To Consider While You Drive Out In The Water
Now that you have successfully taken out of the berth; its time to take the boat out of the harbor. Leave out nice and gentle with the least throttle possible maintaining a watch for a clear way forward and on sides.
Once out in the open waters its time to put the boat on plane and takes off. Increase the boat speed pushing the throttle halfway. You will see that the bow is starting to rise to an angle with the speed.
Now push the throttle all the way down slow and smoothly while lowering the trim till boat stabilizes to the plane. This is how I do it but you can stop pushing your throttle at the speed you prefer.
Once you reach the optimal speed its time to try some basic maneuvers to see how the boat responds to turning at a different speed. Do not try fancy but start with pretty simple moves and progress.
This helps you know how your boat responds at different speeds. Never go for a hard turn at top speed. Instead, just slow to a safe limit and then turn; generally 20-25% slower than the top speed.
Follow all national or local navigation rules. Do not try to overtake anyone in congested waters or in an area with high traffic density. Before you turn your boat make sure the way is clear.
Do not run at full speed or too low trim in shallow waters. One should also maintain a safe distance of at least 100 feet from the shore at all times. At last relax, enjoy but be watchful at all times.
2 ) How To Drive A Boat In Rough water?
Sooner or later you will need to cruise through high winds and strong waves. It’s not a situation you want to be in and needs to be extra cautious when returning dock.
So it is better to know all the tips to safely sail through rough seas. This is under moderate to heavy wind conditions. Beyond that, only a large ship such as a supertanker can sail without much risk.
Make a habit to monitor US National weather service to know of possible warnings and wind speed. Buy a barometer if possible and learn how to use it to accurately predict weather changes.
When out in water try to return dock before the storm or rain hits. Identify where the clouds are, wind direction and wind speed. This will help identify whether a storm is approaching.
Finally, listen to the thunderstorm as it will help you know how close or far the storm is from you. Secure all loose lines wear a life jacket and listen to the VHF distress signal.
When stuck in bad weather the best way to sail safely is by going slow. Slowing your boat increases your stability and gives more time to react. The next best advice is to ride the wave than to face it.
Yes, you will not just gain some speed but avoid capsizing if you ride the wave rather than going for a head-on. Approach waves at an angle and follow a zigzag motion for the best results.
3 ) What Should You Do To Avoid Colliding With Another Boat?
The last thing one probably wants is a collision with another vessel. A collision occurs if either you or the pilot of the other vessel failed to follow the rule of navigation.
A collision can be a minor one with no loss/damage or a major incident involving loss of life and severe damage to the vessel.
For many avoiding collision is just a precautionary measure or an obvious question in your boat examination test. But it is about making the pilot/captain aware of how to deal with the situation and take necessary action.
You should do the following to avoid collision with another boat:
- Follow all local and international navigation rules.
- Look out for other vessels closes by.
- Keep bay from other vessels when overtaking.
- Go slow in the night or in an area with low visibility.
- Do not drink and drive. In fact, the US federal court has a law to fine up to $1000 if found.
- Look out for other vessels when turning.
- Be careful of weather conditions.
- Maintain very slow speed and extra care near docks.
- Give way to commercial ships, sailboats, and vessels restricted in its ability to maneuver.
- Always overtake vessels with a proper sound signal. For example one short burst for overtaking from the port side and two short bursts for overtaking from the starboard side.
- Be aware of and use sound signals wherever applicable; not a must but should always follow.
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