Whether you are a new boater or longtime mariner, the experience of buying a new boat is so exciting. It only makes sense that you’ll start to anticipate all the good times you can share with family and friends on the water, but those good times should be preceded by some new boat owner tips and safety education.
Check out a few key first-time boat owner tips or consider refreshing your knowledge if you’re an experienced boater.
1. Take a Boating Safety Course
Take a boating safety course and know how to operate your boat before you head out on the water. Practice boat handling, docking, and know the rules of navigation. Many insurance companies offer discounts for boaters who complete a boating safety course. According to the Florida Boating Accident Statistical Report for 2020, 83% of boaters involved in fatal boating accidents had no boater safety training. There may not be a book titled, “Owning a Boat for Dummies,” but if there was, taking a boater safety course would be in the first chapter.
2. Buy the Right Boat for You
Boats are designed with specific capacity limits and purposes. Carefully consider if you plan to invite guests aboard or keep your trips to just a few family members and get a boat that fits your lifestyle. One of the first-time boat buyer mistakes is not carefully considering your needs. For example, friends may have good intentions when recommending a certain make or model of boat, but if that type of boat isn’t suited to the type of activities or number of people you plan to have aboard, it’s not the right boat for you.
3. Get the Right Safety Equipment and Gear
The U.S. Coast Guard requires you to carry boating safety gear and equipment onboard your boat, including properly sized life jackets or personal flotation devices for every person onboard. Make sure your boat is equipped with the appropriate PFDs, a first aid kit, basic spare parts (extra drain plug, fuses, fuel filters, etc.) and essential equipment such as dock lines and fenders. You can also get in touch with your local coast guard auxiliary to request a free vessel safety check to ensure you have all required safety equipment for your boat.
4. Learn Boat Ramp Etiquette
Taking the time to learn about boat ramp etiquette is often one of the overlooked tips for first time boat owners. When it’s your turn to back down the ramp, your boat should be loaded and ready for launch so that you aren’t holding up everyone else up. Use a staging area to transfer your gear to the boat, rig electronics, remove transom straps, and take care of any other pre-launch details before getting in line to back down the ramp.
5. File a Float Plan
Before you head out on the water, make sure a friend or family member knows about your route and when you plan to return. This is one of the most important tips for new boat owners because if you don’t return according to your float plan, someone will have your route on file and know to call for help.
6. Make a Pre-Departure Checklist
Put together a pre-departure checklist that includes your safety equipment, topping off your fuel, checking engine and coolant levels, fire extinguishers, ensure your first-aid kit is stocked, check the weather forecast, make sure you have extra dock lines, check batteries (have aboard spare batteries for accessories such as your handheld radio, flashlight, portable navigational aid), and check to make sure bilges are reasonably dry and pumps are not excessively running.