15 Common Mistakes Beginner Boaters Make – And How To Avoid Them

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Boating can be an exhilarating and enjoyable experience, but for beginners, it comes with a steep learning curve. Many novice boaters make mistakes that can compromise safety and enjoyment on the water. In this article, we’ll explore 15 common errors that beginner boaters often make and provide practical solutions to help you avoid them.

Bow Riding

Mistake: Sitting on the bow of a moving boat. 
Danger: Risk of falling overboard, being struck by the boat, or drowning.

Solution: Always ensure passengers are seated properly within the boat. Bow riding is dangerous and illegal in many areas.

Going Near the Propeller

Mistake: Swimming or floating too close to the boat’s propeller.

Danger: Severe injuries or fatalities from propeller strikes.

Solution: Always turn off the engine when people are in the water near the boat. Use a propeller guard if possible.

Putting a Limb Between Boat and Dock

Mistake: Attempting to stop the boat with hands or feet when docking. 

Danger: Crush injuries, broken bones, or amputation.

Solution: Use fenders and lines to properly secure the boat. Never use body parts to cushion impact.

Not Putting the Drain Plug In

Mistake: Forgetting to insert the drain plug before launching. 

Danger: Boat taking on water, potentially leading to sinking.

Solution: Create a pre-launch checklist and always double-check the drain plug before putting your boat in the water.

Not Wearing the Engine Cut-Off Switch

Mistake: Operating the boat without attaching the engine cut-off switch lanyard. 

Danger: Loss of control if ejected from the boat, leading to potential collisions or runaway vessel.

Solution: Always wear the lanyard attached to your life jacket or clothing when operating the boat.

Not Evenly Distributing Load

Mistake: Improperly balancing passengers and gear in the boat. 

Danger: Instability, increased risk of capsizing, or poor handling.

Solution: Distribute weight evenly throughout the boat for better stability and performance.

Ignoring the Maximum Load Capacity

Mistake: Overloading the boat with too many people or too much gear. 

Danger: Overloading can lead to swamping, capsizing, or sinking.

Solution: Know your boat’s maximum capacity and never exceed it, even in calm waters.

Not Having All Proper Safety Gear

Mistake: Failing to carry required safety equipment onboard. 

Danger: Inability to handle emergencies, increased risk in distress situations.

Solution: Get a free vessel safety check and ensure you have all necessary safety gear before each trip.

Not Following No Wake Zone Warnings

Mistake: Speeding through areas designated as no wake zones. 

Danger: Damage to other boats or property, erosion of shorelines, and potential fines.

Solution: Always observe and respect no wake zone signs to prevent damage and ensure safety.

Not Running Fans/Blowers After Fueling

Mistake: Failing to ventilate the engine compartment after refueling (for inboards and I/Os). 

Danger: Risk of fire or explosion due to fuel vapor buildup.

Solution: Run the blower for at least four minutes after fueling and before starting the engine.

Not Checking Oil Level Before Every Trip

Mistake: Neglecting to check and maintain proper oil levels. 

Danger: Engine damage or failure, potentially stranding you on the water.

Solution: Make checking oil levels part of your pre-trip routine to prevent engine damage.

Not Checking the Bilge Before Leaving the Dock

Mistake: Failing to inspect the bilge for excess water, fuel, or oil leaks. 

Danger: Undetected leaks could lead to gradual flooding and eventual sinking.

Solution: Always check the bilge before departure and address any issues immediately.

Not Wearing Life Jackets

Mistake: Operating or riding in a boat without wearing a properly fitted life jacket. 

Danger: Increased risk of drowning in case of falling overboard or boat capsizing.

Solution: Ensure everyone onboard wears a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times.

Failing to Check and Monitor Weather Conditions

Mistake: Neglecting to check weather forecasts or ignoring changing conditions. 

Danger: Being caught in severe weather, leading to capsizing or other dangerous situations.

Solution: Always check weather forecasts before departure and stay alert for changes while on the water.

Ignoring Channel Markers

Mistake: Failing to understand or follow navigational markers and buoys. 

Danger: Running aground, damaging your boat, or colliding with submerged objects or other vessels.

Solution: Learn to read and interpret channel markers and always stay within designated safe areas.

By avoiding these common mistakes, beginner boaters can significantly improve their safety and enjoyment on the water. Remember, boating safety is a continuous learning process. Stay informed, practice responsible boating, and always prioritize the safety of yourself and others onboard.

Looking to get private lessons from a licensed Captain?

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