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12 Most Common Boating Mistakes & How to Avoid Them


Even after reading your boat’s user manual, there’s a good chance that you’ll be forgetting something. It happens, you’re excited to make waves on the open water and there will be something you forgot to do. Not a problem, we’re here to help! We’ve put together a list of obstacles that can arise, and how to avoid them on future trips.

1. Forgetting to check the Marine Weather Forecast

Listening to marine weather before every trip is extremely important, otherwise you may be hit by gusty winds, rough seas, and sudden storms. Please note, we are talking specifically about marine weather, not the regular land-based forecasts which normally post lower wind speeds and no sea conditions.

The best way to avoid this problem is to check out the best Marine Weather Apps for Boaters and use it right before you leave the dock.

2. Running Aground

Running aground happens a lot more than you might think and can have varying degrees of severity, depending on where you’re travelling. On a soft mud or sand bottom it’s usually no big deal, but in a rocky harbor, hitting bottom can do some serious damage.

So what’s the solution? Always be aware of where you are and what the local underwater hazards may be. And when in doubt, slowing down is a good idea. For additional tips, read 7 Tips for Boating in Shallow Water.

3. Overlooking Regular Maintenance

This oversite can have very serious results, especially when it comes to your boat’s propulsion systems. Be sure to locate the Boat Maintenance section in your owner’s manual, create a maintenance schedule, and stick to it.

4. Hitting the Dock

There’s a boating saying that goes: never approach a dock faster than you’re willing to hit it. Even if everything is going right, a sudden power loss or mechanical problem can strike. The end result could mean irreparable damage to your boat an/or the dock Always keep this in mind when approaching a dock.

5. Running Out of Gas

It may seem like a no brainer, but this is one of the most common mistakes people make when boating. Remember that fuel consumption and your boat’s range can be altered by factors like sea conditions and load. To make thing worse, fuel gauge readings can change as fuel sloshes in the tank, and believe it or not, they are often not as reliable as those found in cars.

Smart boaters should always follow this rule of thumb: use one third of your fuel for going out, use one third for coming back, and save one third for reserve.

6. Forgetting to Put in the Drain Plug

This is another common mistake many people make, especially trailer-boaters, who commonly remove the plug between uses. Your owner’s manual should mention this and other tips to help you avoid several other mistakes than can be just as embarrassing, even if they are less common.

7. Overloading the Boat

Always keep track of the weight of both passengers and gear when you’re loading up the boat. Any miscalculation could be quite dangerous.

Without exception, you should confirm your boat’s capacity to make sure you’re within safety limits. And if you haven’t already, memorize your boat’s maximum capacity to potential reduce and future mishaps.

8. Getting Lost

Thanks to modern marine electronics and navigation instruments, getting lost happens less and less on the water, however you should have a plan in place, just in case it does happen. Electrical systems aren’t perfect, so you need to always be aware of your location and how to get home regardless of what devices you have aboard.

If your boat doesn’t have any nav gear, think about adding a marine navigation app to your phone, will which turn it into a mini chart-plotter.

9. Putting Out Insufficient Anchor Line

Anchoring a boat seems like an easy task: just drop down the anchor, cleat off the line, and the boat will stay put… right? Not always.

Even in calm seas if you don’t let out enough line to match three times the depth, the anchor may well pull free. And in a breeze, a “scope” (length of anchor line) of 5:1 or 7:1 as compared to water depth is considered minimal. When it’s rough out, 10:1 may be necessary.

10. Running the Engine Dry

Most marine engines (excluding air-cooled and electric engines) require a supply of water for cooling purposes. Not only does the water cool the engine, it also lubricates the water pump impeller commonly found in most marine propulsion systems. Running a boat motor while it’s on dry land without a sufficient water supply, will overheat, and/or damaged the impeller.

11. Improperly Mooring the Boat

Not knowing how to tie a proper cleat hitch is definitely a common issue. If you haven’t learned how to do so, you might be left standing on the dock, watching the boat float away. Without a doubt, tying up correctly in a slip is important too, to make sure the boat doesn’t bang the dock or pilings.

12. Trailering with the Engine Down and/or Top Up

Preparing a boat for trailering is also an important task, because people sometimes forget to tilt their engine and Bimini tops (which shouldn’t be left in the up position).

Engines that are tilted all the way up can bounce and sway, putting a lot of pressure on the boat’s transom. If the trailer allows for the engine to be tilted down, great. If not, using a “transom saver” bracket that supports and secures the outboard is a must.

And when it comes to Bimini tops, remember that they aren’t designed to withstand 60 MPH winds. Rather than being left up, a convertible top should always be taken down and secured for highway-speeds.

Even if you commit everything you’ve just read to memory, will your boating days be completely mistake-free? Of course not. Mistakes are simply a part of life, but with a little bit of luck and some good remembering, hopefully, these 12 mistakes will be a thing of the past.

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