9 Mistakes to Avoid When Operating a Boat

June 23rd, 2022 by


Mistakes out on the water can have serious consequences. Most boating mistakes result from rushing, loss of focus, or both. The good news is that you can eliminate those mistakes if you take your boat out frequently enough.


Top Boating Mishaps Newbies and Veterans Should Avoid

Here are some of the top boating mistakes that even veteran boat owners can make:


1.       Ignoring the Weather Forecast

Check out marine weather before you head out on your boat, whether your trip is an hour or several hours long. You don’t want to be surprised with choppy water, storms, and gusting wind. Land-based forecasts will not work in this case. They don’t report sea conditions, and the wind speeds they forecast are usually low. Download a marine weather app on your phone to ensure you are not caught unawares.


2.       Running Aground

Even experienced boaters can run aground. The accident can vary in severity depending on location. If you run aground on soft mud or a sandy bottom, you may get out without a scratch. However, the damage can be irreparable if your boat runs over a rocky bottom or a coral reef. In some cases, your boat can capsize.

The simplest way to avoid this mistake is by being aware of your surroundings. Be aware of your exact location along with underwater hazards. Slow down in areas that seem unfamiliar.


3.       Forgetting To Install the Drain Plug before Departure

The drain plug is a plug that is supposed to block the drainage hole. It must be removed when the vessel is dry-docked so the bilge water can drain. If you forget to plug the drain before launching the boat, it will start to fill up with water and eventually capsize.

You may not realize the drain isn’t plugged if you are speeding over the water, but once you slow down, the vessel will fill up fast. This is one of the most common mistakes boat owners make people make during the weekends when they cannot wait to get out on the water. Don’t be those people. Double-check the drain plug before departing from the dock. Several models have more than one plug.


4.       Paying Out Insufficient Line When Anchoring

A boat that refuses to start is quite frustrating, but a vessel that starts to drift despite being anchored can be dangerous. If you experience the latter, the anchor did not touch the bottom because you did not put out enough line.

A good rule of thumb is that the amount of line you need should be five to seven times the depth of the water in calm waters. You also need to take the distance from the surface to the anchor (where it attaches to the bow) into account. Also, remember that if your boat is anchored over rough waters, use ten times the depth. Insufficient length of anchor line may make your vessel drag anchor, drift ashore, or ram into other vessels.

The anchor should land at a narrow-angle to the bottom. This allows the flukes to catch and set in. When you are certain you have paid out the right amount of line, secure the line to set the anchor. Secure it to the bow cleat and drift slowly while reversing downwind. The bow should face the anchor till the boat takes up the slack.

If you feel the anchor dragging, pull it up immediately. It may be tangled in weeds or a fishing line. You may need to move to another spot to find a bottom that is free of debris and can allow your anchor to dig in. When choosing a spot to anchor, keep well away from other vessels. Your boat may pivot over the anchor line if the wind picks up and the water gets choppy.


5.       You Get Lost At Night

Landmarks and buoys are visible during the day, but they virtually disappear at night for anyone out on a boat during those hours. The shoreline looks different during the day and night, so you cannot rely on that either. If you are an inexperienced boat owner, make sure you return to the dock before the sun sets, or you will spend the night out on open (and inky) water.


6.       Failure to Take Accurate Nautical Charts

A nautical chart will tell you where the navigation aids are, how they appear at night, and the landmarks that are visible when it gets dark. Plus, carry a coastguard-grade marine radio so you can call them if you become disoriented and need to be rescued. They can use your radio signal to locate you.

Make sure the chart covers the waters over which you will travel. It will tell you where you are and what is around and underneath your boat. The chart will tell you how deep the water is, what it is made of, and if there are any obstacles you should avoid (such as capsized boats or coral).

The good news is that you no longer need to rely on flimsy paper charts. You can download digital apps on your laptop, complete with GPS units. You can also find digital nautical charts covering almost every nautical spot and large lake. Some people argue that traditional paper ones are cheaper and more reliable. Whichever one you choose, make sure that it is up to date.


7.       Overloading the Boat

One of the most common causes of capsizing and swamping, overloading a small boat can prove deadly. Open-constructed boats have little space even when they are empty. Add coolers, gear, and people, and the boat can easily capsize. You can easily overload boats that seem as if they have sufficient space as well. Whether you overload a small or a large vessel, it can sink even in calm waters.

Prevent that from happening by keeping your boat’s maximum loading capacity in mind when you are loading it. Most mono-hull boats that are 20 feet long have capacity plates attached to the hull. The plate has the vessel’s maximum load weight and horsepower, which the manufacturer determines.

If your boat doesn’t have a capacity plate, contact the manufacturer and ask for the information. Make sure they tell you the total weight your boat can hold, i.e., both people and gear. When you load the boat, ensure heavy gear is stowed near the centerline and secure it, so it doesn’t shift as the vessel moves. This will ensure the boat remains stable and steady.


8.       You Fail To Check the Tank before Departing

Whether you are in a hurry or not, never forget to check how much gas is in the tank. Even if you think it is sufficient, add more. Your boat’s fuel consumption is determined by load and the condition of the water. Plus, fuel gauge readings can change as the fuel moves around the tank, so you cannot rely on it completely either.

A good rule is to stick to a formula seasoned boat owners use. Use one-third of the fuel going out, use the same amount coming in, and ensure one-third is in reserve. That way, you will never run out of gas in the middle of open water.


9.       Trailering With the Engine Down or the Top Up

Trailering is an important task that should be on your checklist before moving out from the dock. However, most people make the mistake of letting the engine tilt, and the Bimini tops in the up position.

The former can bounce and sway when you are speeding over the water, which will place a lot of strain on the transom. Only do this if the trailer allows the engine to be tilted downwards. If it doesn’t, use a bracket that secures the outboard. Similarly, Bimini tops are not strong enough to withstand strong winds. Make sure they are taken down and secured before you speed up.

Mistakes happen. Even if you are an experienced sailor, you can still make errors, especially if you are tired or in a hurry. Keep this checklist with you, and you can significantly reduce your chances of making these mistakes.

If you are searching for a pre-loved or brand new boat from the best manufacturers, check out our inventory at Westshore Marine & Leisure. We have an extensive range of vessels that can meet your needs.

Posted in Boating Tips