Basic Seamanship: How to Boat Better

By Debbie Hanson

Jul 30, 2018

Examples of basic seamanship skills that contribute to safety, confidence on the water. Get a list of sample boating skills and seamanship objectives to learn

One of the best ways to empower yourself on the water is to learn basic seamanship skills. If you're not sure how or where to start, check into boating skills and seamanship courses held by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron, and state boating agencies. You should also spend plenty of time behind the helm under the guidance of an experienced boater while keeping course objectives in mind.

There are a number of practical seamanship skills and boating safety tips you can learn that will help you become a better boater. Some examples of boating skills and seamanship objectives are as follows:

  1. Know the state and federal boating laws and regulations that apply before you take the helm. Check the state pages for links to current laws and regulations. Remember that these laws and regulations are subject to change, so it's always a good idea to check for updates.
  2. Learn about weather and tides, including ways to forecast and route considering changing weather conditions. Stay tuned to marine weather forecasts, be aware of any change in wind direction or temperature, and always keep an eye on the skies.
  3. Learn navigation and chart reading skills. This should include the ability to aids to navigation, navigational charts, a compass, and GPS (global positioning system).
  4. Gain a basic understanding of engine and vessel maintenance. Know how your boat operates, when maintenance is required, and which fluids or spare parts you should keep on board.
  5. Learn key boat handling skills such as docking in the wind, leaving and returning to a slip, close-quarters maneuvers, and anchoring. Consider taking a hands-on class through a group such as the U.S. Power Squadron or U.S. Powerboating.
  6. Know how to use a marine VHF Radio. Be aware that channel 16 is only used for distress calls and hailing. If you need to communicate with another vessel, hail the vessel on 16 and then switch up to a working channel on the recreational band such to carry on the conversation.
  7. Learn how to tie knots and secure dock lines. Learn how to tie a cleat hitch knot, clove hitch knot, bowline knot, anchor bend knot, and use a spring line. You'll be much more confident and comfortable around a boat when it comes time to tie up to the dock or put fenders out.

Learning basic seamanship skills like these will have you on your way to boating better and boating safer. Check a list of online boat safety courses in your state for upcoming course dates and times.

Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.