Tips For A Happier Boat Life

With these solutions, you'll never be short of crew.

No Regrets

After years of living aboard, my husband and I developed a foolproof way to make some of those touchy decisions that come up aboard a boat: Whoever wants to take the more conservative action wins. Period. One of us may say, "I think that squall looks like it's coming this way." The other might say, "No, looks like it'll miss us." We talk about it for a minute, then go with the more conservative conclusion, tie things down, shorten sail, and take precautions. Works every time, no matter the circumstances.

Double Hook

To keep door hooks from rattling, banging, or swinging while running, purchase an extra eye for each hook, and mount it so the hook can be secured when not being used to hold the door.

Keep The Shower Drain Clear

Hair tends to clog up the filter and harms the pump if it gets that far. Avoid letting hair get into the drain. Use a commercial hair strainer, or cut a piece of light mesh for over the drain. Lots of materials will work, such as window screen. You can also buy preformed drain screens from places such as Home Depot. Clean regularly.

iPad For Charts

GPS chartplotters are wonderful tools and make navigation easier, but what happens when they don't work? Carry paper charts for this very reason. Another option is to use an iPad or other tablet, with built-in GPS with a marine-navigation app (with charts already downloaded, if necessary), as a backup GPS.

Bar-Soap Buildup

Avoid using bar soaps aboard. Just use a liquid body wash, which is light and creates little film and won't build up in the shower sump.

Where Are The Keys?

Do you lock your coupler and spare tire? Make three sets of trailer keys. Some locks require an Allen wrench; make sure that's included in your extra sets. Keep a set of trailer keys on a separate ring in your tow vehicle all the time. Some argue that if your vehicle gets broken into, then the thief has the keys. I argue you'll have bigger problems than trailer keys! Keep a set in the boat while in use, and always have a set at home, where someone can pick them up in an emergency and deliver them to you!

Stop Yelling (I'm Not Yelling!)

Communication is an art form, and on a boat it can also be a source of entertainment. I'm talking about couples who yell while docking, negotiating a lock, or trailering. Some of us (myself included) have been guilty of this. My wife, Lisa, and I finally learned a simple solution. We always have a quick review about our intentions, expectations, and procedures before we leave or approach a dock, drop anchor, secure or release our boat from its tether, or conduct difficult navigational chores. This is the time to ask questions and bring up other concerns or options. For example, before leaving a dock, knowing in what direction the captain will pilot the boat away from the dock helps the first mate know what to expect and how to prepare. Unforeseen circumstances can occur. Wind can kick up or current may be swifter than anticipated. Without ongoing communication, the docking procedure becomes just a guessing game, which can lead to wrong decision making, regretful harsh words, and hurt feelings.

Round & Round We Go

Studies have shown that when cut off from sensory input, such as in a small boat in heavy fog, most people tend to circle clockwise. A working compass is invaluable in keeping you on a straight heading. If yours is out of order, try trailing a line astern as a reference point. You'll still tend to bear off to starboard, but knowing that you aren't really traveling in a straight line might be enough to keep you out of trouble.

Let There Be Light!

LED button lights are cheap, easy to mount, and go a surprising length of time on AAA or other small batteries. Stick one over your nav station, or in dark corners where you could use a little light, such as the anchor well. Just remember to turn them off! LED headlamps are invaluable aboard any size boat. You never have to fumble for a flashlight, and have all the light you need for fix-it jobs. Most can switch from a white light to a red for use on dark nights. We keep three of them around, stationed in various nooks and crannies, and use them more than the LED flashlights that we also have on board.

Your All-Important Float Plan

There are too many stories of police seeing an empty tow vehicle and trailer at a boat ramp after sunset and beginning the search for a missing or overdue boater. Sometimes it's the result of a worried family member calling to say the angler in their household hasn't come home yet, adding, "This has never happened before." It's not enough to say "See you later" when heading out for a day on the water. Bad weather, a misfiring engine, even a grounding can get in the way of the original plan. To keep your family, and the families of your passengers, informed, let everyone know the following:

  • Names and cellphone numbers of all on board
  • Intended destination, route, and stopovers and phone number(s)
  • Description of the boat (make, model, color), name, and registration number
  • When you plan to be back

Dog Daze

Most family pets will enjoy boating. Even our Freckles, though not a "water dog," loved to be with us on our boat. Be sure to have a good-fitting life jacket and a doggy ramp so that your pet can get in and out of your boat safely. We built our own, with a float at the end and anti-slide horizontals; it stowed easily.

Let's All Get Along

If there are boats fishing, give them room, watch out for their lines if they're trolling, and go around before resuming your course.

If you're passing a boat going in the same direction, slow down to minimum wake speed when you reach it, overtake it slowly, and resume speed only when you're well in front of it.

Many areas have rules about high speeds near shore. Know the distance you must travel before speeding up after you launch. Avoid high speeds, wateskiing, wakeboarding, and towing toys near docked or anchored boats, and especially near rafted boats. Always stay away from swimmers and divers. Heed no-wake and speed-limit signs.

At the gas dock, tell your crew this is a brief stop, stay within sight of the boat, and be ready to reboard when fueling is complete. If another boater needs assistance, offer to lend a hand.

Take the BoatUS Online Boating Safety Course

Face Time

Never position your head or other body parts over the winch when cranking a boat up onto the trailer. Should the strap or cable fail, your face is in the path of flying material that was once under great tension. Stand to the side. Also replace any worn or suspect winch straps at the first sign of trouble. I prefer straps to cable any day.

Towing With Toys

No matter how secure that 8-foot-diameter inflatable towing toy happens to be, deflate it before heading on the road. Unless you can squeeze it under a towing cover or in the back of a covered truck bed, find a way to inflate it quickly at the ramp while waiting for your trailer bearings to cool a bit. A 12-volt DC inflator or high-volume foot pump will make quick work of the job. Not only will your gas mileage thank you, a deflated toy will last longer without the stress on the handles; save that for the water! The odd looks from fellow drivers will also be minimized! 

— Published: Fall 2015


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