A Beginner’s Guide To Boating

A Beginner's Guide To Boating

Boating can be a great way to spend more time outdoors with loved ones, friends, and even your dog! Whether you live close to a dock or further away in the country, anybody can enjoy the ocean breeze or tranquil lifestyle that a boat enables.

Exploring the great outdoors is highly exciting, and you can soak up the sun while trying out a new activity. There is a rich community of passionate boaters who will offer a warm welcome and provide any advice that you need along the way.

Whether you want to spend more time with your family working as a team, or bonding with your friends, there is something uniquely rewarding about owning a boat and spending time on it. Snorkeling, water skiing, parasailing, and fishing can all be done while you are boating, and there really is something for everyone.

Of course, there are necessary precautions and preparations to take before heading out. This guide will help you understand how you can stay safe, happy, and confident on your boat at all times.

Purchasing A Boat

Purchasing A Boat

Getting the right boat for your intended use can be challenging at first, because there are so many choices. Think about whether your boat will be based in saltwater or freshwater, and how heavily it will be used during a regular season.

Many dealerships will allow you to take a particular boat for a test drive when you are thinking about purchasing a particular type of boat, and it is certainly worth taking advantage of this so that you know exactly what you want.

If you are planning on purchasing a used boat, it is essential that you ask the seller about any issues with the engine, leaking, and electrical systems. Make sure you are looking closely for signs of damage and rot which can be a little pricey to repair.

There are different shapes and sizes of boats that have been made for different uses, from bass fishing to cruisers and ski boats. Make sure you are finding the right style that suits your preferences and intended use.

In addition to this, it is important to think about the number of people who you can see using the boat on a regular basis. For example, larger groups would be more suitable for boats that have a larger capacity and more seating areas.

It is also worth considering how long you plan to spend on the water. Those who want to sail for several weeks or even months should find a boat that has more storage compartments and sleeping areas. On the other hand, people who want to use their boat for day trips and entertainment will not really need to think about this, and could focus on finding a smaller rig.

Make sure you have somewhere safe to keep your boat when it is not in use. They are highly expensive pieces of equipment that can be easy to steal from if they are not secured correctly.

Locking mechanisms, alarm systems, and surveillance cameras are ideal accessories to install because they can provide a little more peace of mind if you do not live within walking distance to your chosen dock.

These factors should influence your decision, and the type of boat you invest in. Once you have made your decision, it is time to focus on taking out appropriate insurance. Read up on how much pontoon boat insurance costs to get an idea what to expect. In addition to this, you should make sure that you have the right amount of knowledge and skills to keep your boat and yourself safe on the water.

Before You Take To The Water

Before You Take To The Water

The amount of preparation needed can seem a little overwhelming at first, but it is definitely worth creating a routine out of these checks ahead of time in order to ensure that you are as safe as possible on the water.

Swimming Capabilities

It may seem like an obvious thing to consider, but so many people head out onto the open water that cannot swim well. Keep yourself and everyone in your group safe by checking that you can hold yourself up in deep water, and swim to shore.

While it is unlikely that you will find yourself in this situation, you should check that everyone can take care of themselves, and that they can swim when necessary. Survival skills and buoyancy devices are essential in any boat set up, and you should double check that weaker swimmers and children under thirteen years old are wearing life jackets before setting out.

Know The Rules

There are many rules that are set to make sure that everyone is in complete control of their boat at all times on the water. Certain requirements are universal, such as having the best life jackets available for everyone on board, especially those under the age of thirteen.

Carbon monoxide detectors are not required, but highly recommended in order to avoid potentially life threatening incidents. Boating while intoxicated will lead to a hefty fine, so it is worth having a designated boat driver who stays sober if you are planning a booze cruise.

The US coast guard‘s rules are usually the norm which people abide by, but it is worth taking a closer look at the boating rules for your particular state. Display your registration number on both the port and starboard of your boat, and keep registration papers on board.

It could also be useful to keep a copy of your insurance documents stored on board so that you are covered on all bases.

Check The Weather

Understand how the different weather conditions affect visibility, steering control, and your boat’s engine performance. This can prevent you from heading directly into a storm or harmful conditions. When bad weather is predicted, it is worth taking extra care securing everything on your boat and even covering it for additional protection against the wind, rain, and even snow.

One way to do this is to take a closer look at the local weather patterns for each season. Consider the average temperature range, and use this as a baseline for what you can generally expect from the weather during a given time of year.

When you are doing your research, it is also important that you are knowledgeable about the different signs of bad weather and incoming storms. Compare weather prediction sites, channels, and apps with the current weather. This can help you figure out which weather predictor is the most consistent and reliable.

It could also be worth using more accurate weather tracking software, such as those which are used by the coast guards. This is another thing that could be worth asking other boat owners about, to see what their opinions are and how they anticipate the weather. Make sure you plan your boat trips when there is less wind, and the skies are a little clearer.

Observe Local Rules And Laws

Observe Local Rules And Laws

Check if there are fees and restrictions within the area that you want to use your boat. Each state has slightly different requirements for boating, depending on the type of water and size of boat. If you are unsure about the local regulations, it is worth contacting your local government representative to check that you are abiding by the law.

It is essential that you know the rules and restrictions which are in place in a given location ahead of time. This prevents you from facing legal complications caused by not having the appropriate permissions or licenses.

Plan And Prepare Ahead

Plan And Prepare Ahead

Another way that you can plan ahead is to create a pre-departure checklist which has all of the essentials on. This will help you in the long run to make sure that everything is correctly stored and packed away.

For larger groups of people, or longer trips, it is even more crucial that you are planning ahead and storing everything in the correct place. This is because you will need to be a little more mindful about the amount packed and necessary supplies.

Preparation is highly important, and it can make you more relaxed in the long run knowing that you have a backup plan or emergency procedure in place. Supplies and essentials should be packed accordingly, and you should make sure that all members of your group have a change of clothes, necessities, and enough food.

If you will be gone for several days, is it also important that you are packing additional snacks and food items in case you become stranded. Similarly, it is worth storing drinking water if you have the available space.

Learn And Prepare With An Expert

Similar to using online forums, it could be worth speaking with someone who is more experienced in setting up a boat for a daytrip so that you can get a little inspiration for storage systems, essential supplies, and other accessories that can make life easier.

Watch how they pack everything away, and what techniques you could use on your own boat. It is useful to learn from an expert, because they will have adapted their routine and setup based on experience and learning through their mistakes.

In theory, this will prevent you from making similar mistakes as a beginner and allow you to feel more confident on the water. Each boat is a little different, and it is worth finding someone who has worked with or maintained your style of boat so that they can show you some of the quirks and hidden features available, as well as how to maintain everything.

Dress Appropriately

Know what to wear and dress for the tasks that you want to do on your boat. For example, those who live in more tropical climates who want to go water skiing or snorkeling should wear bathing suits under light clothing on warm days.

If you are planning a long fishing trip, it is worth packing weather protective clothing such as waterproof pants, and a lightweight raincoat. Sun protection is also essential, even on cloudy days. Pack or wear a wide brimmed hat or cap and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and allow you to accurately control the boat.

The sun’s reflection on the water can be blinding, so it’s important to take appropriate precautions. It could also be useful to bring another layer of clothing just in case the temperature drops or a breeze picks up while you are out on the water.

For those who are wearing swimsuits under their clothes, it is worth packing a large towel and some clean underwear with your things for when you are dry.

Know The Ins And Outs Of Your Boat

Because there are so many different shapes and sizes of boats that are made with different functions in mind, it is worth understanding some of the intricacies of your particular boat. Join an online forum about your type of boat so that you can see some of the issues that other owners have faced, and how they corrected a particular problem.

Understand the ins and outs of your boats before heading out so that you are more confident that nothing will malfunction with regular use. It is also worth researching reviews for a particular brand of boat so that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into, and whether particular areas need to be reinforced.

Make sure you know how to maintain your boat, and that you are familiar with sellers of parts that you may need over time. Certain brands are a little more challenging to get hold of, so it is worth joining online forums in order to see if there are dupes or similar brands that are more common and work similarly to the original parts.

When In The Water

When In The Water

Once you have taken the time to figure out some of the intricacies that your boat has, and that you know how to get ready for a trip, it’s finally time to head out onto the water! These are some of the essentials that help you enjoy your experience, and ways to explore the natural world with friends and loved ones.

Launching And Retrieving

If you live further from a dock, it is important that you know how to safely get your boat into the water and loaded onto a trailer. Both the launching and retrieving process should be smooth after a little practice.

Make sure you are not attempting to do this alone, because it can lead to accidents and injury. Use your crew so that everybody has a role to play, and make the most out of the extra pairs of hands available to you.

The key is to practice, and communicate well with everybody involved so that you have a technique and understand the process. You do not want to cause excessive amounts of damage to your boat, your crew, or your SUV.

Driving Or Sailing The Boat

Driving Or Sailing The Boat

Plan ahead of time, and get your Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) so that you can prove your basic knowledge of controlling a boat on the water. It is definitely worth practicing by taking your boat on small outings with fewer obstacles before heading out on a longer excursion.

Sailing can be a little more challenging than motorized boats, which is why it is important to speak with more experienced sailboat owners who can show you how to prepare and operate the boat correctly. It is highly recommended that you do your own research and enroll yourself into sailing courses in order to understand the basics and begin creating the necessary muscle memory that allows you to get things in place when you are on the water.

Make sure you are familiar with the standard etiquette that exists between boaters on the water. Most people that you meet will be friendly and give you a wave or even shout some friendly greetings across to you.

The boating community are passionate about being on the water and enjoy being able to share that with others, so are always enthusiastic about welcoming newcomers and making them feel welcome.

Walk Before Running

Starting off small allows you to take note of certain things that would make life a little easier on longer trips. This process of walking before running is also useful to see if there is anything you forgot to pack, or if certain items could be left at home next time.

This is also great for instilling a sense of confidence as well as pride when you are packing up your boat and taking it for longer trips. Create a checklist of items that are important to you, and consider keeping a laminated copy within reach on your boat.

Jumping straight into the world of boating and heading off on a long trip can be highly unsafe if you have less experience on the water, or with that particular boat. This is where things are more likely to go wrong and have severe consequences.

Avoid this by easing your way into this new area of interest and starting with short trips that you can use to iron out any issues that you find along the way.

Give Crew Members Roles

Prevent people from bickering over a particular job by assuming the role of captain and assigning roles to everyone on board. It can also prevent strong personalities from clashing and creating an uncomfortable conflict for everybody on the boat.

You can also assign roles to children and family members to create a sense of teamwork and working together. Showing your kids how to look for specific species of fish or even letting them steer on an open area while you supervise them allows them to feel involved and like they are responsible for the boat in some way.

This can also help people appreciate the many processes which are needed to keep a boat running smoothly, which will make them more likely to preserve the overall quality of the interior and exterior. Show your children how they can take care of the boat through keeping areas clean and tidy.

It can also be useful to teach them where certain things go, and the certain compartments that are hidden within the boat. Giving somebody a job to do or even a particular area of the boat to maintain creates a better sense of respect as well as responsibility that you can use to keep things running as smoothly as possible on the water.

Have Fun And Stay Safe

Have Fun And Stay Safe

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that boating is a very healthy and exciting way to spend more time outdoors enjoying the natural world around you. There are so many fun activities you can partake in. You can swim with interesting fish, take up barefoot waterskiing, teach the kids to water ski, jump from your pontoon diving board, or enjoy the tranquility that comes with being on the water.

Of course, you should also take appropriate steps to stay safe at all times by making sure everyone has access to a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) such as a life jacket which fits well. Staying safe also comes from being as prepared as possible, and you will be able to rest easy on board knowing that you have everything you could need secured on your boat.

It may seem like an obvious tip, but avoid being more daring when you are steering and driving the boat. This is what leads to accidents and harmful consequences in the long run, not to mention pushing the boat’s motor a little past the limits that it can handle.

Avoid speeding into big waves when you see them, because it will cause excessive damage to your boat and even increase the risk of flipping your boat upside down. This is extremely unsafe, and should be avoided as much as possible by pulling the throttle back when you see a big wave approaching.

Decide What Activities To Try

This is your chance to explore new activities and even discover a natural talent that you didn’t know you had. Try out waterskiing, wakeboarding, snorkeling, fishing, or spotting unique birds on board. Boating can open up all kinds of doors in terms of exploring different activities.

Deciding what you want to try out first is recommended, so that you can check you have the right equipment and tools necessary. If you aren’t sure that you will be using certain accessories regularly but still want to try something new, it could be worth renting equipment for the day or duration of your trip.

Choose what you would like to try, and figure out what type of equipment you will need ahead of time in order to find everything you need in time for your next trip.

Using The Correct Terminology

Referring to parts of the boat and certain procedures should be done using universal boat lingo. This is useful because it prevents you from making mistakes and creating nicknames for certain things. It allows all members of your crew to understand exactly what you are referring to, and carry out a task with less ambiguity.

As well as instructing other people on your boat, using the correct terminology makes it easier to communicate with mechanics and other laborers when a particular issue arises that requires skilled workers.

Mayday is an essential word to know, because it is a radio distress call. Other words and phrases include the bow and stern, which refer to the back and front ends of the boat. The hull is the main body of the boat, and a knot is actually a nautical unit of speed rather than the tying of ropes together.

Knots are nautical miles per hour, and are slightly shorter than miles on land at 6,076 feet. Other terms which are worth being able to recognise include the acronym BOAT, which actually stands for best of all times. Running lights are used for navigation during poor visibility or night.

When tied up at a dock, the fenders become useful by protecting the sides of a boat. They are round protective cushions on either side, which prevent damage caused by colliding with another boat when docked. The keel refers to the point of the hull which reaches the lowest. This is usually something that is important when you are approaching shallow waters where it can become damaged.

Water collects in the bilge, which is the lowest section of the hull where this happens. It is usually drained or pumped out, and is completely normal. Beam refers to the widest measurement of your boat, which can determine how stable it will be on the water.

Spotting Weather Warning Signs

Make sure you are keeping a close eye on the skies when you are out on your boat, because the weather can change fast. It is worth taking appropriate precautions in order to head back before a storm or intense rainfall hits, which can make it more challenging to find your way back safely.

Most boats are equipped with their own pressure gauges and radios which can be used to check how the weather is changing throughout the day in regions close by. This is a great indicator of whether you should turn back or carry on while you are out on the water, because you can see how severe certain conditions are, and weigh out your options.

If you live in an area where the weather is less consistent, it could be worth researching some of the early signs of severe conditions so that you can head back to shore before the worst hits.

Most docks and bases will have people who take watch of the water and send alerts if dangerous weather is approaching. It is essential that your boat has a reliable radio which can detect these weather warnings ahead of time so that you don’t become stranded. Try to avoid turning your radio off, and keep it loud so that you will not miss any warnings or alerts.

When In Doubt, Use Common Sense

Go with your gut, and have faith that you have the basic knowledge to decide what to do. Common sense can be highly powerful when you are out on your boat, and you should use it to figure out your next steps and approach a challenging situation.

It could be a useful idea to have an emergency plan in place with emergency contacts, and distress signals to get help. Because it is so easy to forget common sense during a crisis, it is easier to make irrational decisions that are unsuitable for the situation.

Prioritize younger members of your group and get everybody into a life jacket. Try not to lose your head and have faith that help will arrive soon during an emergency.

With that said, however, it is highly unlikely that you will find yourself in this type of situation. This is because boating is low-risk compared to other activities, and it is only made less safe with malfunctioning equipment, carelessness, and integrating more high-risk activities into a trip such as parasailing or scuba diving.


Boating opens up a range of possibilities, which can be highly rewarding uses of your time. Create bonds with new friends or strengthen existing ones by having everybody on board working together to keep things running smoothly.

Of course, boats are not cheap. They can be an investment worth saving up for over time, because of the incredibly enriching experience that they provide. It is highly rewarding to connect with the boating community and enjoy a new and unique network of connections when you are on board.

Whether you want to explore rivers, lakes, or the ocean, it is worth finding the right boat for you and your intended use. For example, boats for fishing are less suitable for activities like water skiing. Consider your intended use in order to decide which boat would be right for you.

Boating can open up all kinds of doors for you, and it is worth taking the necessary precautions ahead of time in order to fully experience the freedom that boats provide. Ensure you have the correct permits and insurance, and that you have a safety plan in place.

Scroll to Top