I rarely fish on the weekends. Back in the day I used to do it, but as more and more people started getting boats, I simply couldn't take their obvious lack of knowledge (and courtesy). It was like watching a bunch of 15-year-olds learn to parallel park for the first time. On the one hand, it's quite a humorous thing to see, but on the other, it's darn right scary.
So what brought this subject to my frontal lobe? A new boat owner and transplant from Pennsylvania by the name of Joe Banks called me. Right up front he told me he needed help with boating, boat maintenance and all the other things needed to be a safe and courteous boat owner. How refreshing. If only more folks did this maybe I wouldn't have such a low regard for many of the boaters I see on a daily basis.
I realize that, like with most things, practice makes perfect, but when it comes to boating you at least need to know the basics first and then go from there. When someone who has never set foot on a boat in their life goes out and buys a big yacht, that person can be dangerous not only to themselves but to other boaters around them.
A perfect example of this occurred a month ago when I was with a friend of mine, and we were attempting to catch bait off a beach on Hilton Head Island. As we were slowly cruising toward a pod of bait, another boat came flying in and right then I knew I should keep a close eye on them. Sure enough, as my buddy was standing on the bow with a cast net, that same boat came straight toward us, and I could see that the gentleman at the wheel wasn't even looking in our direction. When it looked like a collision was imminent, I yelled to him. Instead of putting his boat in reverse, he panicked and floored it. I had seconds to avert a midboat collision -- so with no other choice at hand I too had to jam the throttles forward, throwing my buddy to the floor. And though I almost made it out of this guy's way, he plowed into one of our 300hp engines doing more than $3,000 in damage.
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Sadly, I see things like this happen all the time, so when I met up with Joe, I really put him through the paces.
One of the hardest aspects of boating around here is docking, due to our huge tides and strong currents. Rule No. 1 in docking is to never go faster than you want to hit something. For new boaters, I tell them that whenever possible, dock going into the current and not with the current behind you. Secondly, never -- and I mean never -- have someone standing up on the bow with the bow line like they are ready to do the long jump. All it takes is one slip of the throttle and that person goes flying and the boat runs over them. Come in slowly and, using the throttle, bump it gently in and out of gear. I guarantee your docking prowess will improve tenfold in no time.
The biggest threat is that people panic when they see they are getting ready to smash into the dock or when the tide catches them. They ram the throttles home, and that just makes matters worse. In and out of gear is the ticket -- even if you do get in trouble, the impact will be minor.
I will say this about my friend Joe, he caught on like a pro and even when I had him try backing into a slip with the tide ripping, he did it well. Once he got past the panic instinct, it all went smooth as silk.
Another mistake I see all the time is what appears to be a complete misunderstanding of what denotes a "no-wake" speed. Having a dock myself, I get to see firsthand how boats plow past at half speed, throwing up wakes large enough for people to surf on. I can't even leave my boat tied to my dock because it would get destroyed in no time. First, stay at least 100 yards away from docks. In no-wake zones, look behind your boat. If you see white water, you are going too fast. Also, if you see small boats anchored along the shoreline, and people are fishing, be courteous and slow to a crawl as you pass by them. The saying "what goes around comes around" applies to this simple act of courtesy.
Pretty soon you'll start seeing boats at the head of the May River throwing cast nets for shrimp, so don't go flying through the middle of these boats or put up big wakes because you might just cause someone to be thrown overboard.
I plan on writing more tips on safe boating and until I do, use some common sense. If you don't know the basic rules of boating, take the time to either take a safety course or hire someone to show you the ropes. It may just save your life one day.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.