I always share a tip or technique with you in this space, hoping to make your boating experience safer, easier and more enjoyable. But without practice, those tips have less value. So let’s have some fun this month.
Many of us belong to yacht clubs and fishing clubs. Most of us at least enjoy the camaraderie of boating friends. Here’s an activity you and your group can make a day of, having fun while brushing up on skills that will make you a better boater. It would be a great exercise to help kids learn the ropes — in fact, a boating family could compete amongst themselves, using one boat and alternating time at the helm. Scout troops and other organizations have my permission to play the game as part of earning a merit badge, or whatever.
Some ground rules: Failure to wear life jackets, sniff the bilge or adhere to any navigation law, or observed reckless operation, is cause for immediate disqualification. So is unseamanlike behavior: You must properly secure your anchor and rode, not just chuck it on deck; you have to actually tie up at a slip, secure enough to walk away from the boat, etc. The Seamanship Game is not played as a gunwale-to-gunwale race, which could result in an accident. It’s a rally. Each skipper is timed from start to finish. Stagger each boat by 10 minutes.
Task 1: Start off anchored at a cove or sandbar. Wade to the boat, board, weigh anchor and depart.
Task 2: Once free of the hook, a ball is thrown behind your boat from shore. Motor toward the ball and pick it up.
Task 3: Approach a marina, dock in a slip and tie up securely.
Task 4: Hail a committee boat using proper VHF protocol to receive GPS coordinates and a time you must arrive at the next destination (challenging your ability to run your boat at a predetermined speed). Input the information as a waypoint into your GPS and set off for the next destination, arriving as close to the predetermined time as possible.
Task 5: After arriving at this waypoint — it could be another boat anchored in the lake — tie the following three knots properly for a judge: a bowline; a round turn and two half hitches; and a proper cleat hitch.
Task 6: Proceed to the starting point, anchor securely and wade ashore.
Feel free to alter the rules to suit your particular waterway. It’s the spirit of the thing and the practicing of skills that are important. Keeping short distances between legs helps prevent “overly enthusiastic” skippers from zooming around recklessly. So does a leg incorporating time-speed-distance equations as in Task 4 above.
The winner is the captain who completes the course in the least time. In reality, everyone wins, since boating skills are enhanced and everybody gets to spend the day on the water.