Boat Driving Basics

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How do I learn to drive a boat?

Boat Driving Basics

Boating is a great way to cool off on a hot weekend. Before you head out and buy a boat there are a few things you should know. Operating a boat is very different from a car. Sure, both usually have a steering wheel with forward and reverse, some even have boat speed control like a car's cruise control, but the car will not usually be affected by things like wind and current. On the water, as well as the road, there are also rules to follow. However, water is fluid and those rules are more of a guideline, taking second seat to current conditions.

Now that you are aware of the fact that you are not driving your car on the water let me walk you through the basic steps of how to drive a boat. First off, before you leave the dock, make sure you have enough fuel, that there is enough oil, and that all your safety equipment is in proper working order (i.e. horn, life jackets, etc). Now is time to start the engine. If you have an outboard, follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to start. If you have an inboard (engine inside the hull) make sure you turn on the ventilation blowers prior to starting just to make sure there are no gas vapors where there shouldn't be. Once the boat is started, be sure the engine is running okay, take note of any wind or current, and then cast off in such a way as to use the two to your advantage. Once you are underway and out of the busy marina or launch, turn on your electronics (radar, GPS, sonar). You can never have too many ways of judging conditions, be sure though to have an old fashioned compass aboard as well as know how to use it.

As you go along, you may see buoys that are red, or green as well as other color variations. The red and greens are the most important. They are the channel markers. The best rule of thumb to navigating them is “RED, RIGHT, RETURN” as in red buoys on your right as you return from sea. Once at sea though the buoys will usually disappear, and you will be faced with the open sea. With the sea comes the potential for big waves. With waves is best to hit them at a 45 degree angle, hitting them head-on will make for a wet rough ride that may damage the boat. Hitting them sideways may result in the boat getting swamped and potentially sinking.

There are many skills required to operate a boat and many different skills depending on what type of boat. If you want to get the most out of your boating experience and want to be a safe knowledgeable boater, attend a class offered by Boats US, your local US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and pick up a copy of Chapman's Piloting.



12/24/2008 9:54:42 PM
Captain Kat said:

It's Red Right Return, when you're returning FROM the sea.

8/9/2011 3:23:44 PM
plumcass said:

I thought red right return is when returning from the sea and not going out to see as i interpret your article???

11/9/2011 6:13:21 AM
Chris said:

Great info for beginners like myself!!

6/10/2012 12:15:02 PM
Capt G said:

plumcass is correct: "RED, RIGHT, RETURN" is returning from the sea. Example would be the Mississippi River. Going north (returning from the sea) the red (Nun) buoys are on the right and the green (Can) buoys are on the left.


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