See the sun peeking through the clouds? Feel that breeze that isn't entirely bone-chilling? These are signs, my friends. Signs that our long national nightmare of winter is over, and summer is just around the corner. Now, I know we're all excited to get back on the lake or reservoir or wherever we carve up the water, but all that enthusiasm can lead to moments of conflict with our fellow men (and women), and we don't want that. Ever had another boater cut uncomfortably close across your bow? Just about gave you a heart attack and made you jumpy the rest of the day, didn't it? While we all believe we'd never be the inattentive or rude one to cause another person that kind of stress, the truth is we can all probably use a reminder or two about boating etiquette.
And that's what Better Boater is all about, right? Teaching some of the newcomers to the crowd important lessons about the boating lifestyle, while helping reinforce these ideas to those who have been around a few seasons.
Let's start on our way to the lake. When towing a pontoon or deck boat our focus should be on not creating an accident that makes it on the 6 o'clock news. Advocacy group www.dangeroustrailers.org reports 15,211 people died from 1975 to 2008 in accidents involving trailers. Virginia even created a new law last year requiring all trailers to have an emergency chain or cable to keep it connected to the towing vehicle. So ensure your boat won't go careening down the interstate (see the Feb 2011 issue of PDB for more information on trailering your boat), but also be sure to watch the traffic around you. Double and triple check that the lane next to you is really clear before you move into it. Don't follow vehicles too closely, as you need more stopping room than you may be used to, thanks to the extra few thousand pounds attached to your hitch.
Once you've arrived at the dock, keep that watchful eye. If there are other boats waiting to use your launch ramp, go about your business as quickly as possible (while remaining safe). Put the drain plug in, remove the tie-down straps and do the other pre-launch requirements while waiting in line. Don't dilly dally about talking with your buddies or waiting for Bob to retrieve your Cheetos from his truck. Every minute you unnecessarily make someone else wait is a minute you stole from their fun day on the water. If you're looking to go the extra mile and generate some good karma, wander down the line and offer to help launch others who may need help with the process. Making friends never hurts, and if the line disappears that much more quickly, everyone wins.
Keep To Yourself
Once you've quickly and efficiently gotten out onto the reservoir, make it your highest priority to give wide berth to other boaters, whether underway or not. Not only is it rude, it is also illegal in some places to pass too closely to someone else, as this endangers everyone involved. It can be hard to realize just how far-reaching the effects of your wake can be; at high speeds, you can rock a fishing boat a good distance away. Keep an especially far distance from boats pulling wakeboarders, skiers or tubers. While everyone knows to wave the orange flag when there are people in the water, everyone also forgets at times.
All this distance doesn't mean you should be unfriendly. If you anchor near another craft, take a second to wave at the other group, and maybe even introduce yourselves. In fact, this rule of making eye contact is a good way to ensure other boats see you, whether moving fast or not.
Make Yourself At Home
As a guest on another person's boat, don't forget to show respect to the owner while having a great time. These two goals are not incompatible, but if you damage the boat or make a nuisance of yourself, you probably won't be invited back. First and foremost, make it clear you're willing to help in any way required. Boating is not a one-man job, and your assistance in docking and other areas may be invaluable. Even if you're new to this sort of thing, being willing to do some work makes the voyage go more smoothly for everyone.
In addition, offer to pay expenses. Gasoline isn't cheap, especially for a boating trip, and the boat owner is losing money in other ways by sponsoring this fun. Finally, once the day is done, stick around after you've reached the shore and offer to help get the boat back on the trailer and get it covered again. All of this responsible behavior might cut into your "100 percent fun all the time" personal motto, but trust me: you'll get invited back more often if you prove you belong out there.
If everyone can follow these simple ideas while on the water this summer, we can make 2011 the best boating season ever! So, you know, no pressure.