As I was driving into work this morning, probably in the range of 15-20 minutes late, I had a million things running through my head. Getting my kids taken care of for the day, talking my husband off the ledge after his last football crisis and the weather. All of a sudden, I looked up and see my publisher, Greg Larsen, standing on the corner and staring at me in horror. By the time I parked my car and got into my office, I had completely forgotten about the experience until I got to our daily staff meeting.
Greg: Before we begin, I think we need to review some traffic rules.
Katie: What the what?
Greg: The red octagon out there on the corner is a stop sign.
Katie: Are you sure? I’m pretty sure it’s a yield sign.
Katie: Well, that’s ridiculous because it’s a one-way street to a one-way street. They certainly don’t expect you to stop.
Greg: Umm. Yes, they do. When you took that corner, two wheels were off the ground.
Now you’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with boating. There is a point! Right after that meeting, I read online that similar to traffic accidents, the most common causes of boating accidents involve operator inexperience, operator arrogance, excessive speed and operator inattentiveness. I tell you that story to let you know that at times, I too am guilty of all of those things, both on and off the water.
If we want to see a change in marine safety, we need to recognize the error of our ways and do better with the next generation. Since I’m responsible for teaching my two little ones boating safety, I need to make some changes in the way I look at things.
Step One: Book Knowledge
Boat Ed offers a great online course that teaches responsible boat operation, etiquette, and the rules of the waterways. Out of the 50 states, 45 have educational requirements for operating a boat on state waters. Within the safety of your own home, you can familiarize yourself with the basics of what you will need to know. Your state may not require a boating license, but I guarantee you that all operators are held responsible for knowing navigation rules.
Step Two: Take A Water Class
If you have the resources, consider hiring a professional marine educator that will meet you on your boat. Depending on where you live, an afternoon one-on-one class will cost you somewhere around $150. An experienced spouse is a great resource, but it’s very possible they aren’t the right person to get you started. It’s a strange phenomenon that we seem to have the least amount of compassion and patience for those closest to us. I write this with firsthand experience as well. Since you’re paying them, a professional marine instructor will be able to walk you through the basics at your pace. They will also be familiar with local and Coast Guard regulations.
Step Three: Practice
With repetition, you will start to get a feel for how your boat handles on the water. Pontoons are generally not as maneuverable as mono-hull boats because the shape makes them more susceptible to wind. You’ll have to think about things that you may not have considered previously such as boats steer from the stern and pivot on an axis. So when you steer to the right, the stern of your boat moves to the left. Plus, the boat draws its power from the rear, which creates a different feeling when you throw it into gear. Obviously if you’ve ever been on a boat you realize this, but until you get behind the helm, you don’t realize how it affects the way you handle a boat.
Don't get discouraged. Learning to drive a boat is much like learning any other skill. You weren’t born knowing how to do anything and think of how much you already know. Just like when you get into the car and your hand automatically knows exactly where to move to put the key in the ignition. You will get the same kind of muscle memory on your boat and it will become second nature to react in the correct way, no matter the situation.
Now, all of those steps covered operator inexperience. But how do we work on operator arrogance, excessive speed and operator inattentiveness? For that, we have to take a step back and realize that we will always be learning and none of us has the right to arrogant or inattentive driving when operating a boat. In my opinion, if you are purely a recreational boater, there are too many factors for anyone to ever completely master boating. There will always be something to learn, so keep that in mind. After all, technology is advancing too quickly that the way we boat may be completely different 10 years from now. All you can do is do everything in your power to be safe on the water. Your ability to do this will improve the more that you put the time into learning. Also, even if you don’t have kids, little ones are always watching and absorbing how you handle things, so be a good sport about it.
So I guess I will end this story with some basic thoughts. Boat sober. Be attentive. Avoid excessive speed (which probably means different things to different people). And most importantly, have a good time doing it.