10 Boating Skills You Need When Learning How to Boat

By Debbie Hanson

Oct 11, 2017

Find out about basic boating skills you should know before taking the helm. Safe boating skills and seamanship practices that every boater should make priority 

When you have top-notch boating skills, a day on the water is safer and more relaxing for everyone on board. If you're thinking of buying a boat or want to get more boating experience by renting a boat, these ten basic boating skills and seamanship best practices should be a priority.

1. Understand boating terminology

Understand boating terminology, including the parts and features of a boat. For example, the term "bow" refers to the front section of a boat, and the "aft" or "stern" refers to the rear section of a boat. If you want to improve your level of boating skills and seamanship, a smart first step is to learn the terminology. Check our boating glossary for more terms.

2. Know how to read the boating Aids to Navigation

The best way to learn more about navigational aids, like buoys and markers, is to take a basic boater safety course. Some of the most important navigation rules to learn involve the following boating scenarios: a crossing situation, a head-on situation, and an overtaking situation.

3. Learn how to fill out and file a float plan

A float plan should always be filed with a reliable friend or family member before you leave the dock. The information that is contained in a float plan can then be provided to the U.S. Coast Guard in the event of an emergency.

4. Know the required safety equipment you need on board

Know the safety equipment you need given the type of vessel and the number of people. One of the best boating tips you can take advantage of is to arrange for a free vessel safety check through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons.

5. Learn how to safely trailer and launch a boat

When you know how to trailer and launch your boat, there's no limit to the number of waterways you can explore. However, your skills won't be limited to just the ones you'll use on the water. For example, towing a boat will affect your breaking, turning, and shifting abilities when on the road. If you sign up for a hands-on boating skills course, find out if towing and launching instruction is included.

6. Know how to securely set your anchor

When it comes to boating techniques, knowing how to secure your anchor is another valuable skill to have. For starters, you'll want to locate an area that offers shelter from wind, current and any boat traffic.

7. Learn how to navigate with a compass

Learn how to navigate with a good old-fashioned compass in the event your boat loses power. Just think, when Christopher Columbus was figuring out how to boat across the ocean, a magnetic compass was one of the only navigational tools he had!

8. Know how to use a VHF radio

This will help you make a distress or Mayday call in the event of immediate danger. The ability to use Channel 16 on a VHF radio to broadcast to the U.S. Coast Guard is particularly important when boating offshore or in areas where there may be limited cell service.

9. Learn how to safely dock a boat

Docking a boat isn't hard as long as you take the time to practice and know how to adjust for tides, current, and weather. Again, the best way to acquire this boating skill is through a boat handling course and practice.

10. Know how to properly tie off dock lines

Do you know how to tie a cleat hitch? What about tying lines in a manner that accommodates for tidal changes? If not, you can ask a professional captain to show you or take a boating class to learn.

Now that you know about the basic boating skills you need to have, you can take the next step. Think about the type of boat that would be a good fit for your family, and then get boat registration information for your state.

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 shefishes2.com or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.