Cast & Blast

Why new boaters should know the ropes before taking to the water

Collins Doughtie
Collins Doughtie

Unless I am heading offshore fishing, I rarely ever fish on the weekends anymore. Back in the day I used to fish on Saturdays and Sundays, but as more and more people started getting boats, I simply couldn’t take what was obviously a lack of knowledge (and courtesy) by many of those new boat owners.

It was like watching a 14-year-old trying to learn how to parallel park for the first time. On one hand it’s quite humorous, but on the other hand, it’s darn right spooky.

So what brought this subject matter to my frontal lobe? A new boat owner and transplant from afar called me and right up front told me that 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 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. But when someone that 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 all those 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 the beach on Hilton Head. As we were slowly cruising toward a pod of bait, another boat came flying in and right then I knew that I should keep a close eye on that boat.

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 and instead of putting his boat in reverse he panicked and floored it.

I had seconds to avert a mid-boat 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, he plowed into one of our 300hp engines, doing over $3,000 in damage.

Sadly, I see things like this happen all the time, so when I met up with my newest student 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 number one 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 — when ready to dock, have someone standing up on the bow with the bow line in hand looking 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 and I guarantee your docking prowess will improve ten fold in no time.

The biggest threat is that people panic when they see they are getting ready to smash into the dock or the tide catches them and they ram the throttles home. That just makes matters worse. In and out of gear is the ticket and even if you do get in trouble, the impact will be minor.

I will say this about my new boater, 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 constitutes a “no wake” speed. Having a dock at the end of my street, especially on weekends, boats plow past the dock at half speed throwing up wakes large enough for people to surf on. I’ve learned to never, ever leave my boat tied to this May River dock because it would get destroyed in no time.

Rule number one is stay at least a hundred yards away from docks. In no wake zones, look behind your boat and 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 down 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 and 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.