So, you’re going to channel your inner Diddy and step aboard a boat. You’re ready for the wind to majestically whip through your hair, the sea to splash against your supple skin, the beams of the sun to radiate off the gentle wav— ok, reality check, boating is not as glamorous as it seems in all those music videos. There’s a LOT more to boating than queueing up that Lonely Island song and cruising off into the sunset. But don’t worry, during our years living the coastal lifestyle we’ve spent plenty of time on and around boats and we’re going to lay out some of the basics for you so that you can navigate the waters of boating with ease (yes, that pun was intended).
Talk the Talk
First thing’s first, boating comes with an entirely new set of vocabulary and we don’t want you looking like a deer in the headlights when your captain asks you to “tie the buoy to the starboard cleat before we enter the channel.” There is a whole set of maritime terminology, but here are some keywords to know: The front of the boat is the bow, and the rear is called the stern. The left side of the boat (when on the vessel, facing forward) is called the port side and the right, starboard. Got it? Good. Moving on… On the water, speed isn’t measured in mph or km/h, but a unit called ‘knots.’ How fast is a knot? One knot is just a little less than 1 mph, but unless you’re captaining you probably won’t need to worry about that. The ‘channel’ is the water version of the highway and ‘wake’ is the area of recirculating water behind a vessel under power.
When your boat is in the water, whether it’s in saltwater or freshwater, you’ll notice a lot of big red and green signs. These are going to help you find your way around so pay attention to them! They’re called channel marker signs and they let you know which direction to head and where the “road” is. Stay between the signs to ensure that you’re in the proper path. Steering outside of the markers isn’t necessarily detrimental but could result in hitting a sandbar or other unseen obstacles like rocks or debris. If the red sign is on your right, that means you’re returning to shore; If it’s on your left, you’re leaving the shore. Remember the three R’s: Red, Right, Returning. Pro tip: find unique landmarks onshore to help with directions when you’re heading back in from the water.
Now it’s time to talk about gear. The most vital piece of gear you’ll need is a PFD, or personal floatation device such as a life vest. If you don’t take our word for it- just as the Coast Guard. Many state’s boating laws require 1 PFD per person aboard and can ticket you if you don’t have enough. Of course, you already know to bring the basics: towels, sunscreen, snacks, water (who are we kidding, beer), but an item many people forget to bring is a dry box. Let’s face it- things get wet on boats, some things accidentally go overboard or can get lost below deck. Having a sealed plastic box for phones, electronics, keys, and valuables comes in handy.
What to Wear
Repeat after us: Always overpack! Many southern clothing brands are a great place to look for coastal clothing. Of course, you know to bring your bikinis and men’s swim trunks, but the weather can be fickle on the water and you always want to be prepared with more than swimwear. Nothing is worse than being stuck in a storm out at sea and getting pelted by raindrops so bringing a rain jacket is a good idea if the sky looks iffy. Things can also get rather chilly when you start to increase the speed and a wet swimsuit isn’t going to help you out in the warmth department. Guys should pack a soft, comfy hoodie and girls can stay cozy and cute in tunic hoodie. No one wants to get down on their hands and knees and scrub shoe scuff marks off the deck. You want to be respectful (and also get invited back again) so remember to wear shoes with non-marking soles. The boat owner will appreciate you did!
Once you’ve found that perfect spot to stop and go for a swim, you’re going to need to do one very important thing: drop anchor. After all, most people like to find their boat in the same place they left it. Before anchoring your vessel, check the depth of the water (most boats have instruments installed that will do this automatically) and take note if there is anything below the surface. You’re aiming for a nice, sandy spot under the water so steer clear of wrecks, debris, rocks, the Krusty Krab, and coral reefs. When you’re ready and have more than enough chain/rope attached to your anchor (5-7x the depth of the water is recommended), throw ‘er in! Gently toss that baby away from the boat and let it sink down to sandy bottom. Secure the anchor rope to the cleat on the bow of the boat and consider yourself parked.
When it comes to docking the boat, slow and steady is the way to go. Rules vary depending on where you’re docking and sometimes dock spots are reserved so check with the Dockmaster before you get too settled. Be a good crewmember and assist the boat captain by offering to bring out the buoys and place them on the outsides of the boat, hanging them from the cleats. Once you’ve docked you’ll need to secure the boat to the dock cleat using a type of knot called a cleat hitch. Spiral the remainder of the rope and place it neatly on the dock so that no one risks tripping on it.
Now that you’re back on shore, we’d like to say congrats on stretching those sea legs of yours. We hope to see you making waves again soon. And in case you’d like to extend the invitation next time, we’re always up for a great day on the water.
Disclaimer: Please be safe when boating and take precautions. For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org. People in an emergency and need of Coast Guard assistance should use: VHF-FM Channel 16 (156.8 MHz), dial 911.