Experience may be the best teacher, but how about learning without experiencing the pain of a mistake? For example, two boaters were stranded in the confusing, shoal-filled Florida Keys without navigation lights and no GPS to guide them. The pair misjudged the setting sun. It went from above the horizon to down to pitch dark before they were halfway home. It was so dark they couldn’t risk moving until another boat came by, and they flagged the operator down.
“We stayed out too late fishing and didn’t know when the sun set,” they told their rescuer before following the guide boat home. On the docks, they asked, “What could we have done?”
“Well, you could have used the old finger trick to judge how much sun you had left before it set,” the salty dog rescuer said. “You simply extend your hand toward the horizon, present four fingers in front of you, and count how many fingers between the western horizon and the sun. For every finger you have about 15 minutes.”
Was that a tip you needed to know? If so, could there be others? Before answering, try “the old finger trick” out the next time the sun sets — likely later today — and try the others listed below. Reading these tips may the best teacher, and could save you just a bit of pain.
1 / White-Cloth Alert
Lay down a clean white towel in the engine compartment bilge and check for oil spots. Because conditions are extreme when the hatch is down and the engine is blazing, staying in tune with this critical area of your boat is vital. Keeping the engine room tidy allows you to show off a great-looking compartment to friends, and the clean white towel provides the visible backdrop for discovering new problems fast.
2 / Dry Out Wetsuits
Avoid the stink and degradation of damp wetsuits, gloves, booties and all things neoprene by flushing off the saltwater immediately and drying them out of the sun. “Leaving them wet makes a wetsuit or booties heavier and weaker, and they don’t last as long,” said Zenon Bilas, a barefoot waterskiing champion who coaches barefooting and waterskiing around the world out of his home base of West Palm Beach, Fla. “I continually turn them inside out as they are drying, and they last longer and are more effective.”
3 / Look Down, Go Down
When waterskiing or wakeboarding, never, ever look down. Once you look down, your head drops, your posture crumbles, you get off balance and bingo, you catch an edge and go splat.
4 / Deep Thoughts
Running aground is never pleasant, so it’s important to remember that light-colored water is good and dark water is bad. Other warning signs of boat-damaging rocks, shoals or sandy bottoms are breaking waves, odd ripples and splashes. And if you see a long-legged seabird walking around, look out!
5 / Kill Switch Connected
Ensure the safety lanyard is properly hooked up if you turn the key and the engine won’t start. It’s the first thing to check when you are dead in the water, and the simplest thing to fix.
6 / Towing Membership
If you boat a lot and don’t want to get stranded, or just want to be safe on the water, get a Sea Tow ($179 per year on saltwater bodies and freshwater lakes or $119 for lakes only) or BoatUS ($158 per year for saltwater, $72 for fresh water) membership. It’s Triple A on the water. It’s worth it.
7 / Don’t Hold Your Breath
In exciting or dangerous situations, we forget to breathe, so if you are on a watercraft, are waterskiing or just driving the boat in challenging situations, concentrate on regular breathing. Breathing will keep you more alert and oriented, helping you recognize when to stand up, hold on or loosen up. When you sit, squeeze your hands hard, forget to breathe and don’t move your feet, the amount of wear and tear on your body increases.
8 / Launch Ramp Courtesy
Do not occupy the ramp until you are ready to launch. Most boat ramps are very busy, so load safety equipment and gear and give the vessel a prelaunch check beforehand.
9 / Krazy Glue Worms
Bass fishermen will use Krazy Glue on the hook and slide the worm up on it when flipping a Texas-rig in heavy grass. The glue anchors the worm in place, so it doesn’t come off easily, allowing for more casts per minute.
10 / Always Wear A PFD
A person in the water cools down more than 20 times faster than in the air, so a quick rescue for a person overboard is extremely important. In addition, smaller people — children, for example — cool off faster than larger people, and a personal flotation device (PFD) can greatly aid in survival. Not only do PFDs help keep part of the body out of the water, but they cover some of the body to preserve heat. Never give alcohol to a hypothermia victim.
11 / Upside Of Upgrades
Having a working VHF radio is a must, but today’s new radios offer much more than just monitoring Channel 16. Fully waterproof, many new units are loaded with additional features such as GPS. In addition, fixed-mount radios now have Digital Selective Calling (DSC). With DSC a radio can send and receive digitally encoded distress calls on Channel 70, and if your radio is connected to a GPS, the distress call will include your precise location.
12 / Shut Down For Swimmers
Always approach swimmers or downed skiers from the driver’s side, and when you get close, shut down the engine. “I don’t want the skier or swimmer breathing exhaust,” Bilas said. “I also want to hear what is going on, and with the engine off there is no prop danger. It’s the same process when getting off the boat. Let them get far away before ignition.”
13 / Watch Out For Glass Cleaner
Extremely gentle care must be taken when cleaning the windshield — even glass cleaner can cause permanent damage. Plexiglas windows and windscreens are acrylic and should only be cleaned with water and a soft cloth that won’t scratch. Glass cleaner has ammonia in it, and if you use that you are going to destroy the windshield by breaking down the acrylic, and the windshield will haze and crack.
14 / Hose Down The Dash
Today’s gauges and components are waterproof. That means they can be hosed down, and condensation inside the gauges will dissipate if it forms. Be certain not to use anything but a soft cloth and water only on the gauge lenses, to avoid scratching.
15 / Watch Birds, Catch Fish
Keep an eye out for fowl on the water. One professional angler looks for great blue herons, because they’re hunting for the same food the fish he’s trying to catch are hunting for. When he finds the herons, he knows there must be fish nearby.
16 / Vessel Magnetism For Personal Watercraft
Does it seem as though other vessels are like magnets when you’re riding a PWC? We tend to go where our eyes lead us, so when you’re staring at your friend, another boat or the dock, it’s a natural reaction to steer toward it, which can be dangerous given the tremendous closing rate of a PWC. Instead, keep your eyes focused on where you want to go, which is a trick professional watercraft racers use.
17 / Get Rid Of The Salt
Performance boat owners may be afraid to wash down the engine compartment with fresh water, but they shouldn’t be. The intakes are pulling in salt air, and the salt needs to be removed from surfaces, just like on the exterior of the boat. Hose the engine compartment down with fresh water and then spray WD-40 or fogging oil over everything. That keeps the nuts and bolts from corroding, so you can work on them when you need to.
18 / Potato Plug
A hole in the hull takes quick action, and a raw potato is a ready-made plug. Carve it down to size to stop up drains, hoses and valves.
19 / Be One With The Boat
Use your legs like shock absorbers to take on rough water; countless YouTube videos offer proof about how dangerous it is to get out of sync with the boat. Passengers get launched from their seats, become airborne and turn into Raggedy Ann and Andy. Stand up, hold on and “move” with the boat — you’ll be happy later.
20 / No Zigzagging For Good Fuel Economy
Set a proper course and stick to it. Zigzagging and wandering waste fuel and time. Autopilot and electronic navigation aids can help save gas. Also, make use of tides and wind when you can; often, you can plan a trip when the local wind and tide are favorable.
21 / 1-, 10-, 100-Mile Trailer Inspection
Perform a walk-around inspection of the trailer before every trip, and then make another check after just 1 mile of travel. Just to be safe, check again after 10 miles and then again at 100 miles, just in case there’s an issue.
22 / It’s Called Fishing, Not Catching
Nauseating pablum, right? Especially if you consider yourself good at it. Yet the idea is worth pondering: Be patient. Patience really is the key to good fishing, along with actually fishing and not napping or reading a book.
23 / Free VHF Radio Check
Using Sea Tow’s free Automated Radio Check Service can reduce the volume of non-urgent communications traffic on VHF Channel 16, the international hailing and distress channel, while still allowing you to perform the check to ensure that your radio is functioning properly. The Automated Radio Check Service uses VHF Channel 24, 26, 27, 28 or 84. Simply tune your radio to the proper channel for your community, conduct a radio check as you normally would, and when you release the mic, the system will replay your transmission, letting you hear how you sound.
24 / Mirror, Mirror
If towing a skier or wakeboarder is a big part of your boating, adding a rearview mirror can help the driver be more aware, and not just on ski boats. The ability to quickly glance aft while keeping your eyes forward is invaluable for the captain. Think about a car without a rearview mirror: wouldn’t happen.
10 Doggie Boating Tips
If you take your four-legged canine pal out on the boat, use these 10 tips to keep it safe and secure:
1. Lead your dog to the boat with the engine off, and then start the engine once it is settled. Allow the dog to sniff around the boat.
2. Let your dog in the water only when permitted to do so. When the boat is underway, keep the dog safely restrained.
3. Attach an ID tag to your dog’s collar; make sure it has your contact information.
4. Handles on the back of pet life jackets help when hauling smaller dogs from the water and can come in handy for transferring them between the boat and the dock.
5. A bright life jacket color makes the dog easier to spot in the water, and always do a fl oat test to make sure it works.
6. A fishing net attached with line to the boat can be a useful tool in getting a small dog back aboard quickly.
7. A pet ramp or stairs off the back of the boat will help a dog swim aboard.
8. Make sure your dog has a shady place to sit and access to drinking water.
9. A piece of artificial turf may work for bathroom issues, but you have to train your pet to know where to go.
10. Keep your boat shipshape, stowing fishing gear so your dog doesn’t get hooked.