Tips For Taking Your Boat Cruising

By Tom Neale, 11/4/2013


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Many of the questions that we get on the BoatUS Ask the Experts site have to do with going to destinations. This is really great, because that's one of the best things that you can do with your boat. Whether your boat is a canoe, a center console, an express cruiser, or large long-range cruiser, it can take you to new places. It can let you go exploring, and it can bring you new and exciting experiences. But typically the questions we get have to do with the concern or even fear of the skipper because he or she is going to a new place. Will the water be deep enough? Will the channels be confusing? Will there be special issues such as locks? How much of a factor will the weather play? How long will it take? These are but a few of the many questions that come to mind when a boater is going to travel by water to a new destination.

A weekend cruise on the Waccamaw River, SC=
A weekend cruise on the Waccamaw River, SC.

It's very encouraging to see people write in with these questions because they are incredibly important and legitimate questions. And it shows that this particular skipper, unlike some, takes his boating seriously, takes his ability to have fun seriously, and is trying to boat responsibly. I take my hat off to these people. Unfortunately we can't always answer the questions because we haven't been everywhere and, even if we had, we can't possibly know what a shoal may be doing today even though it wasn't there yesterday. But often we can give general tips which we hope are helpful. Below are some of those general tips which you may find useful when you use your boat for what it was built to do and take a trip in it.

First get paper charts that cover the area where you want to go. This used to be expensive but it isn't now. You can view nautical charts for free at and print your selection or you can download these charts in small scale booklet form at  Next, study the charts. There are many things that they will tell you. For example, they can give you distances. They can tell you the types of water that you would travel. You may be considering creeks and rivers which are relatively protected, or you may be considering broad open expanses which are more vulnerable to weather. They can also alert you to special issues such as unusual shoaling, locks and unusually heavy traffic.

Tom's Tips
Tom's Tips On Boating Trips

1. When planning a trip to a particular destination, always plan for alternative destinations that are closer and easier.

2. In most boating trips you will be at the mercy of the weather and other factors beyond your control.

3. There is nothing wrong with cutting a trip short or turning around.

4. It may be wise to do this for safety reasons or simply for reasons of comfort and fun.

5. Remember, that's what it's all about. Fun for all aboard!

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Also buy or borrow current editions of guidebooks that cover the area. Many people borrow old editions and sometimes these do nothing but get them in trouble. Things change on the water all the time. One good source is Bluewater Books and Charts in Fort Lauderdale ( They have a huge number of guidebooks and personnel who can help you decide what to buy for your trip. There are also often localized guidebooks that are published by small companies, which can be very helpful. So check in your local marine supply stores. Study these guidebooks as you study the charts. They will add a level of detail and interest that will that help you to use the charts better and will make you better equipped to make the voyage. As you study the guidebooks look for fun spots, marinas, and places you'd like to stop and visit. But also look for potential problem areas where contributors have written about changes over the years. Changes could include shoaling, bridge construction, bridge repair, channel changes and changes in AIDS to navigation.

If you are taking family or friends along, it is very important to share with them the interesting things that you are learning from the charts and particularly the guidebooks. Often your kids or your mate may be looking forward to this trip with a great deal of apprehension. This can make it less fun for everybody and may mean that it will be the last destination trip. But if they understand the issues and the things to look forward to, they may be as excited as you are about this voyage.

As you study the charts and books, make a list of questions or issues that concern you. Then start seeking local knowledge. Local knowledge can come from many sources, some good, and some not so good. Always consider your source. If there is a marina located in an area, the personnel at that marina may be very helpful as to any issues in that area. Check with your boating friends, members of your yacht club, and people around the marina and ramps. Often you will find people who have done the trip and who can give you good advice. They will usually enjoy talking with you about it and may even want to accompany you on the trip. Sometimes, traveling in a group is helpful because of the combination of knowledge and because there's someone there to assist if something goes wrong.

In many areas, tow boat operators are not only knowledgeable but happy to assist. For example you might want to call the TowboatUS operators in the areas with which you have concern and ask them your questions. You can find the areas and names and numbers of TowboatUS operations at You can also check the East Coast Alerts on the BoatUS website at The Alerts report information, research, government and private user reports, relevant USCG Local Notices to Mariners, and much other useful information. For example, The Alerts cover recent US Army Corps of Engineers surveys. The USACE surveys problem areas of the waterways with highly specialized boats with highly specialized equipment including sidetracking sonar and unique computer programming. Frequently these surveys will show, for example, where the deep water was at the time of the survey even though the shoal has moved and is no longer where the chart indicates.

It also helps, not only for peace of mind, but for a successful fun trip, to have your boat checked out by a good competent mechanic or friend. Making a trip to a destination is very different from going out for a few hours to and from the marina or ramp on a Sunday afternoon. Depending on your boat, there may be issues such as changing a water pump impeller, changing a V-belt, buying an extra paddle, re-stitching a sail, cleaning barnacles off your running gear and myriads of other potential problems that can make a difference between a safe, good and fun trip or something very different.

This last point cannot be overstressed. If you are not already up on your navigational skills, work on this before you go. Learn how to plot a course on a paper chart. (Even the best chart plotter may fail you at a critical time). Learn how to figure distances. Learn how to compute times of arrival dependent upon distances and the speed of your boat. Learn what factors may slow down or speed up your boat. These can include waves, current, and even shallow water. Learn what various aids to navigation tell you. Learn the Rules of Navigation. You can find these at . And, importantly, learn how to handle your boat in relevant varying circumstances. If you haven't learned these things yet, delay your trip until you do. You want to have fun, and you will probably have a huge amount of fun if you do it right. We look forward to seeing you out here.



Boating and water sports involve risk. Any comments herein should be followed at your own risk. You assume all responsibility for risk or injury to yourself or others. Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive and also hold authors harmless from any and all claims which may arise from or be related to that use.