One of the most relaxing ways to spend a summer day is by getting out on the water. However, expect the waters this summer to be a bit more crowded. Boating and boat renting skyrocketed in popularity in 2020, and the trend has only increased in 2021. In fact, top peer-to-peer boat rental company GetMyBoat reported that their bookings surged 700 percent year-over-year since April 2020 and continue to rise each month.
Before captaining your own boat or a rented boat, it is imperative that you are knowledgeable about boat-tiquette, or the accepted and safe ways to maneuver your vessel. We will begin with the basics and what not to do while driving a boat. Master these to have a safe and memorable time — and to ensure no fellow boat captain assumes you’re a newbie to the boating world.
Please note that the laws requiring a boat captain to have a valid boating license vary by state. We recommend doing research about the particular location’s requirements prior to renting a boat.
1. Ignore The Rules Of The Road
Of course, water does not have the highway lines or visual driving cues we are all accustomed to on roadways. Therefore, it is imperative that boat drivers understand the “rules of the road” while out on the water to avoid collisions.
Boaters should travel the water on their right side, the same way American drivers would travel on the road. This is a simple rule to follow while cruising on a lake or river where the shore is within eyesight. However, while boating on more open waters, it can be a bit trickier. Here are the rules to follow when approaching other boats or water vessels.
The Crossing Rule
If you are attempting to cross in front of another boat, or if another boat is speeding into your path to do the same, the captain must immediately determine which vessel is the “give-way” and which is the “stand-on.” If the other boat is on your boat’s starboard side (the right side, in layman’s terms), it is your duty to avoid collision and divert your route. If your boat is on the other boat’s starboard side, you should maintain your current path and speed.
The Meeting Rule
If it appears as though your boat and another are speeding toward each other head-on, it is again imperative to quickly make a decision. In this case, each driver should alter their path to pass with the other boat on the port side, or left side.
The Overtaking Rule
When approaching another watercraft from behind, you are the give-way vessel, and the other boat is the stand-on. It is the responsibility of the give-way driver to pass on either side without crowding the stand-on vessel, which should continue traveling at the same speed and on the same path.
2. Speed Through No-Wake Zones
One of the fastest ways to immediately be recognized as a rookie boat captain is by ignoring no-wake zones. Not only is this dangerous, but it is illegal, and you may find yourself in hot water with water patrol. No-wake zones are in place for various reasons, including to protect wildlife, to prevent speeding and heavy waves near docks or bridges, and to protect swimmers in crowded areas of the water. They are marked by orange-and-white buoys and/or signs. As the boat captain, it is your responsibility to stay alert for these zones and throttle your speed below 5 miles per hour. For most watercraft, this is simply done by shifting the boat into the lowest gear and allowing it to idle until clear of the no-wake zone.
3. Loiter At The Fuel Dock
Boating will be immensely popular this summer, and that means the fueling docks will be busier than ever. When docking for fuel, it is the captain’s job to direct the passengers to prepare for tying up. Prior to pulling up, the boat ropes should be secured and ready to toss onto the dock, and the protective bumpers should be tied and dropped on the dock side of the boat. Refueling is not the time to unload the entire vessel to grab snacks or visit a shop, since another boat may be waiting to take your spot. Don’t be rude; get your gas quickly and move along. Many water fuel stations have another dock for those wanting to stretch their legs inland.
4. Crowd Other Boats And Watercraft
This one should be fairly obvious, but during crowded times, it can become more difficult to maneuver your boat. While cruising, leave as much space between your vessel and the others as possible. Although you may be a boating etiquette expert after reading this article, do not assume that all your fellow captains are as well. It’s especially important not to crowd small personal watercraft, like jet skis, which can unexpectedly turn into the paths of larger vessels.
5. Cruise Undercover At Night
A night cruise or a boating trip to a nearby restaurant for dinner is the perfect way to end a day on the water. However, nighttime boating requires an especially alert captain and additional safety precautions. Before setting out, ensure all the lights on your boat are on and functioning properly. The bow, or front, of your boat should have navigation lights — green on the starboard side and red on the port side. These alert oncoming traffic of the direction you’re traveling. Additionally, the stern, or rear, of your boat should have white lights. Depending on the size of your vessel, white all-around and masthead lights may also be required.
6. Pull A Skier Or Tuber Solo
Waterskiing or tubing behind a high-powered speedboat is exhilarating, but it requires the captain to be more alert to ensure the skier or tuber’s safety. Never pull someone behind a boat without a designated spotter to alert you of requested speed changes or stops. A captain cannot do so while looking ahead to steer. Additionally, many states require a boat to display an orange flag while pulling someone behind to remind passing vessels to allow more space.
7. Drink Too Much
Do we really have to say this? Okay, we’ll say it. Captaining a boat is driving, no matter which way you cut it, and the captain must remain alert and ready to make quick decisions at all times. It is easy to get caught up in the fun the passengers are having and start putting back a few too many cold ones — but don’t. Water patrol around the country have cracked down on BUIs (boating under the influence), and these carry heavy penalties and potential jail time, just like DWIs. Be smart and hire a captain if no one in the group is willing to be the designated driver.