|Five Common Boating Mistakes and How to Avoid Them|
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If you’re new to boating—or even if you’re not—it’s easy to make simple mistakes that may have serious consequences on the water. Almost always, boating errors are caused by rushing, not paying attention, or both. Most of them are more embarrassing than anything else; for example, failing to tie up the anchor before tossing it over the side, or jumping from the boat to the dock and ending up in the water, instead.
But the upside to these kinds of errors is that you can easily avoid them by taking a basic boating course, staying focused and always completing a pre-departure checklist. Never assume somebody pulled up the anchor, put in the boat plug or … well, you name it. Under rules established by the U.S. Coast Guard, vessel operators are always responsible for their actions and vehicles. Here are ﬁve of the most common boating errors and some thoughts on how to avoid them.
1. Failure to install the boat drain plug prior to launch. Installing the plug is one of the most basic procedures in boating, but on boat launches around the country, some boater invariably forgets it almost every weekend. Compounding the problem is that several boat models have more than one plug. If an operator fails to install any of the plugs, the result is a boat full of water. Don’t assume the drain plug is in the boat. Double-check.
2. Failure to pay out enough line when anchoring. In boating, the only thing more frustrating than a boat that won’t go is one that won’t stay put. Anchoring your vessel over a hot ﬁshing spot or in a secluded cove for a few hours of relaxation is part of the fun, but it does require a bit of arithmetic to get it right. Remember that the amount of line needed to anchor a vessel (called the scope) should be ﬁve to seven times the depth of the water in calm weather, plus the distance from the surface to where the anchor attaches at the bow. If high winds or rough sea conditions are present, then use 10 times the depth. Fail to use the proper scope, and your vessel may drag anchor and drift ashore, into other vessels or—worst case—out to sea!
3. Failure to carry appropriate and up-to-date nautical charts for the area traveled. In order to be truly safe, a smart skipper will carry a chart of the waters on which he or she is traveling. Not only do you need to know where you are and what is around you, but you also need to know what is under you. Yes, there is a bottom under all that water, and a chart will tell you how deep the water is, what the bottom is made of and if there are any obstructions that could cause a problem, such as rocks or an old wreck. Without appropriate charts, a boat operator runs the risk of running aground, hitting submerged objects or just plain getting lost.
4. Getting lost at night. Many people go out during daylight hours and rely on recognizable land features to ﬁnd their way home. There’s a difference, however, between what the shoreline looks like during the day and how it appears at night. At sunset, recognizable features disappear and are replaced by unfamiliar and confusing lights on shore.
If you’re inexperienced at night navigation, allow plenty of time to get back to port before the sun goes down. Smart boaters will make a few runs at night to become familiar with the area where they boat, and to know what their favorite areas look like after dark. Use a nautical chart. The chart will tell you where the aids to navigation are located, how they are lit at night and what landmarks you may be able to see once the sun goes down. Always pay attention to where you are going while it’s light. Carry a VHF-FM marine band radio, and if you become disoriented at night, the Coast Guard or the local shore patrol may be able to use your radio signal to locate your position and reorient you.