Imagine trying to herd a snake across a busy street. Got a good picture of that in your head? That’s your first glimpse at driving a boat.
Boats don’t really handle well. They are just as quick to react to the environment as they are to your commands, and when you ask them to go a different direction than they are already moving they are slow to respond. They are slippery and rarely stay still, and will bite you if you put your hands in the wrong spot.
Learning to handle a boat, whether it’s small or large, takes patience and caution. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the vessel when you are new to the helm, but a few simple rules can help the most inexperienced boater build confidence quickly. Here are my four favorites.
1. The slower you are going, the less damage you can cause.
You’re in a boat, what else could possibly be better? So why hurry to get anywhere. Take your time while docking or running through a no-wake zone. Keep off the throttle and let the wheel and shift lever do the work. Adding throttle increases the amount of damage a mistake can cause. Speed can turn a simple bump against another vessel or piling into thousands of dollars in repairs.
2. You can’t fight the wind.
The wind always wins, so don’t fight it – use it. Instead of trying to fight the bow in to a hard wind in tight quarters, let the wind spin you away from your desired direction. Once the bow swings use the momentum to complete a 360 degree turn to face the heading you want.
3. Assume the other guy is an idiot.
Boaters are general friendly and kind, but not always. There will always be arrogant and obnoxious people out there who think their years on the water has given them the experience and wisdom to stop thinking about safety and courtesy. These are usually the first people to crash, sink, or run aground. Assume any other boater in your vicinity is an idiot until they prove otherwise. Avoid close calls by swinging wide and steering clear. If you are meeting someone on the water head on and need to avoid to miss them, make a maneuver that’s easy to interpret. Don’t turn two degrees to port or starboard, make a hard turn so there’s no misinterpreting your intentions. Let the other guy clearly know what you are doing so he can do the opposite. In a situation where someone is overtaking you, stay your course until they are well clear. And when all else fails, if you’re completely unsure of what to do simply stop the boat if it’s safe to do so and let the situation come back under control.
More soon, stay safe!