1. Navigate the “Great Circle Route”
Depending on where you start, this classic cruising trip takes you through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, up the East Coast, into the Hudson River past New York City, across New York via the old Eerie Canal, and back into the Great Lakes. From transiting locks to going offshore to idling through the Intracoastal Waterway and inland lakes, you’ll experience every type of boating imaginable — and see the country. For inspiration, visit boatingmag.com/great-loop-blog-small-boat-big-summer.
2. Transit a Lock
It’s almost impossible to get very far in the inland waterway system without having to go through a lock, and learning proper lock etiquette — as well as transiting one without panic — is an invaluable experience. To learn how to get through a lock, go to boatingmag.com/how-to/safer-boating-through-bridges-locks-dams.
3. Join a Poker Run
It’s a chance to join a community of performance boaters where speed is part of the fun but not the only thing. Race fellow contestants from spot to spot to pick up a card for a poker hand. The best hand at the end wins. The Florida Powerboat Club is one of the biggest supporters of poker runs. Visit flpowerboat.com.
4. Barefoot Water-Ski
It’s a right of passage: tubing to getting up on skis to going slalom. The ultimate step is to learn how to barefoot ski. Boating contributor Zenon Bilas is one of the best barefoot skiers of all time and offers instruction in Palm Beach, Florida. Visit zenonbilas.com.
5. Anchor Out Overnight
It’s one thing to sleep on board at the marina with the air-conditioning cord attached. It’s another to anchor out under the stars in a desolate bay. For some tips for dropping the hook at night, go to boatingmag.com/anchoring-night.
6. Raft Up
Rafting up at the local sandbar is one of the most social things we can do on our boats. It’s like tailgating at a football game. To know how to make sure yours is the best raft up in the party cove, visit boatingmag.com/how-to/how-to-raft-other-boats.
7. Drive a boat over 100 MPH
Going 100 mph in a boat will change your life. Maybe you won’t have an epiphany or suddenly get rich, but you will have a new appreciation for raw, pure speed. After all, we hurl through the air at close to 500 mph on commercial airplanes without ever noticing, but when you hit triple digits in a boat with an open cockpit, you feel every ounce of it. That is why we encourage everyone to experience the thrill at least once in their boating endeavors — if you’re not skilled enough to drive that fast, find a veteran speedster to take you. Check out Tres Martin’s Performance Boat School at performanceboatschool.com. And read about our experience here: boatingmag.com/photos/tres-martins-performance-boat-driving-school.
8. Cook a Meal on Your Engine
Who says you need a galley to cook a meal on your boat? If you have an inboard or sterndrive, you can use the engine’s heat to cook. Wrap your prepared food in three layers of foil and stick it on a flat, safe surface on your engine, securing it if need be. A hot engine block can make a hot meal.
9. Go Diving (If Not Scuba, Get a Brownie’s Third Lung)
Everyone should see the world below the surface while wearing a mask and fins. If you don’t have the time or inclination to take scuba-diving lessons, invest in a Brownie’s Third Lung, a hookah system that floats on the surface and lets you stay underwater for up to 90 minutes. Visit browniesmarinegroup.com.
10. Install an Accessory
Boating, at its core, is truly a DIY sport. You’re not a real boater until you install something on your boat. Figure out what you need and how to do it at boatingmag.com/how-to/diy-projects.
11. Take a Long-Distance PWC Tour
So many people think PWCs are for tricks and wake jumping, but they make great long-distance cruisers. Read up on a few different PWC adventures to consider at boatingmag.com/boats/pwc-touring.
12. Take a Trailering Road Trip
Your boat is your passport to explore new waters. Some waters require you to trailer your boat over land. Pick a great body of water in a different state, hitch up your trailer and go. Get there using our tow guide at ford.boatingmag.com.
13. Swim With Sharks
You’ll have a newfound appreciation for your place on the food chain. Avoid the apex predators though, and try more benign swimmers like nurse sharks or whale sharks. Visit boatingmag.com/photos/hey-boating-baja-california-whale-sharks.
14. Build a Kit Boat
If you’ve ever had the dream of building your own boat, you can still do it by purchasing a kit boat. Companies like Clark Craft will supply the designs and scantlings (building materials), and it’s up to you to put it together. Visit clarkcraft.com.
15. Learn Celestial Navigation
Before GPS, or any type of electronic assistance, voyagers made their way via celestial navigation — the art of determining your position by using the stars. Learn to be the saltiest of salts by taking a course at an accredited place such as the Chapman School of Seamanship. Visit chapman.org.
16. Restore an Old Boat
If you’re into classic boats, your best bet to own one may be to buy the neglected one sitting under a tarp and restore it. You’ll learn every inch of your boat and have an intimate knowledge of its components, plus gain a new appreciation for craftsmanship. Follow the tips for restoring old boats at boatingmag.com/11-tips-for-restoring-boats.
17. Learn to Wakesurf
Surfing a clean wave is one of the coolest experiences in the world. No coast? No problem. Wakesurfing behind an appropriate boat lets you experience endless summer and, if you fall, it doesn’t hurt. Watch our video series to learn how. Visit boatingmag.com/videos-wakesurfing-101.
18. Attend a Boat Show
There’s no better way to see boats of all stripes and sizes in one spot. You can quickly size up the differences between models and styles and talk to multiple builders in one day. The Miami International Boat Show is among the best if you can get there; if not, find one near you. Get all of our boat-show coverage at boatingmag.com/tags/boat-show.
19. Harvest Scallops
You don’t have to fish to enjoy seafood; you can take your boat out to search for scallops in season. It’s easy and accessible for almost any boater. Learn how to find scallops and other types of seafood at boatingmag.com/harvesting-seafood-from-your-boat.
20. Take a Slow Boat
Chartering a displacement trawler gives you a new appreciation for cruising. You will lose your sense of time and enjoy just being on the water. Plus, trawlers are great vessels for learning advanced planning, boat handling and seamanship. Check out these trawler charters in Florida at boatingmag.com/how-to/cruise-florida-style.
21. Make the Run from Florida to Bimini
Located just 50 miles off Miami, the Bahamian island of Bimini is one of the easiest offshore cruises to complete. In the right weather, you can do it in a small boat. Getting a read on the weather is paramount though, as you have to cross the Gulf Stream, which can get lumpy in a hurry.
22. Learn to SUP
Kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) are all great for exploring local waters, getting exercise and getting up close with the water. SUPs, particularly inflatable ones, are easy to bring aboard your boat. Check out a few in our online gear guide at boatingmag.com/find/SUP.
23. Go Boat Camping
You don’t need a cabin boat to overnight. All you need is a place where you can cruise, anchor out and pitch a tent. To learn boat-camping basics, visit boatingmag.com/boat-camping-adventure.
24. Join a Christmas Boat Parade
If you live near the water and it doesn’t freeze over, odds are a town near you throws a Christmas boat parade. They’re fun to watch, but it’s more fun to decorate your boat and join the flotilla.
25. Rent a Boat for the Day
If you can’t bring your boat with you, rent one to explore new waters. New peer-to-peer services let you rent directly from other boat owners. It’s a way to explore new waters and try new boats. Visit boatingmag.com/peer-to-peer-boat-rentals.
26. Use a Paper Chart
What if you lose your electronics? Every boater should learn how to get from Point A to Point B by using the backup paper chart you keep on board. (Don’t you?) Follow these tips provided by NOAA at boatingmag.com/how-to/how-to-read-nautical-chart.
27. Make a Fiberglass Repair
If you own a boat for long enough, you’re going to ding the fiberglass. Learn how to repair it yourself to save time and money at boatingmag.com/how-to-repair-damaged-gelcoat.
28. Make Ceviche
One of the easiest ways to enjoy a fresh catch is to turn it into ceviche. You just cut the fillets into small strips or chunks and throw them in a plastic bag with fresh-squeezed lime juice and salt. The acid from the lime juice “cooks” the fish. Add different ingredients to your liking and eat it right on board.
29. Read The Perfect Storm
The movie’s OK, but for one of the most in-depth looks at what it’s like to be caught offshore in foul weather, read Sebastian Junger’s book about the travails of Capt. Billy Tyne and Andrea Gail (W.W. Norton, 1997).
30. Join a Sailboat Regatta
Many of our experts learned the basic tenets of seamanship through sailing. Don’t know how to sail? Find a friend who races sailboats and join him or her during a regatta. It’s about as great a thrill as you can get on the water without horsepower.
31. Go Spearfish
It’s one thing to catch a fish from the deck of your boat, it’s another to hunt it underwater and shoot it. At its best, it classifies as an extreme sport. Visit boatingmag.com/how-to/hunters-abyss.
32. Enter a Docking Competition
Think you’re a master around the docks? Pit your skills against some of the best. Watch how they do it during the Waterman’s Rodeo on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland at youtube.com/watch?v=cXWiMMSg4ZI.
33. Pole a Flats Boat
Flats skiffs are designed to float in less than a foot of water, but to get around you have to propel it with a push pole. Flats captains make it look effortless, but it takes a lot of work to track straight and then turn it where you want to go. Check out some poling basics at saltwatersportsman.com/techniques/fly-casting/poling-basics.
34. Take a Barge Trip Across Europe
They call them “narrow boats” because they have to be skinny enough to transit crazy aqueducts, but taking a barge trip can be one of the most enjoyable ways to see the old country. Rent one yourself. Visit leboat.com.
35. Go Whale Watching
You can go on a whale-watching cruise or take your own boat out to watch the biggest animals on Earth in their native habitat. Learn how to do it safely at boatingmag.com/whale-encounter.
36. Go Down River Rapids in a Jet Boat
Our own Jim Hendricks did this a few years ago (March 2013) and said, “It takes a different kind of captain willing and able to challenge the raging rollers and menacing troughs wrought by tons of meltwater crashing through narrow, boulder-strewn canyons.” Too much fun. Visit boatingmag.com/boats/whitewater-jet-boating-adventures.
37. Navigate at Night
Cruising at night is another rite of passage for real boaters. But it’s not for the faint of heart. You have to use all your senses and know what you’re doing. Learn the basics at boatingmag.com/navigating-at-night.
38. Go Geocaching
Geocaching is a game where people leave rewards or notes for others to find using only GPS coordinates. You can do it by boat and really learn to use your electronics. Check out a list of small boat geocaches online by visiting geocaching.com/bookmarks/view.aspx?guid=5e191830-61cf-4fb9-9c70-8e00a92714c0.
39. Tie a One-Handed Bowline
The bowline may be the most useful knot to know. It’s easy to master with two hands. Can you do it with one? Visit animatedknots.com/bowlineonehand/#ScrollPoint.
40. Make a Boat Delivery
Many an old salt has made a living out of captaining other people’s boats from Point A to Point B. Get the appropriate Coast Guard captain’s license and put yourself out for hire; you’ll be able to cruise and get paid for it.
41. Fish in a Tournament
Fishing in a tournament puts all your skills to the test — boat handling, navigating, time management and more. And it’s a different game when you’re fishing for glory or money. Read our inside look at a big-money billfish tournament at boatingmag.com/how-to/type-angler.
42. Rent a Mouse Boat at Disney
Yes, your family trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, can still be a boating vacation. Disney rents all kinds of boats to use in its lakes, including the iconic Sea Raycer (or “mouse boat”). Visit boatingmag.com/boating-disney-me-and-sea-raycer.
43. Go Tubing
You can tube behind any boat, from a PWC to a sport-fisherman, and it’s worth it for hours of family fun. Up your game with the tubing tactics found at boatingmag.com/extreme-tubing.
44. Watch an APBA Race
Speed on the water — watch racers operate at insanely high speeds within inches of each other. It will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. To find powerboat races near you, go to apba.org.
45. Dock with a Joystick
Joystick control systems are changing the game for close-quarters maneuvering on our boats — sending traditional techniques the way of old vinyl records (enjoyed mostly by purists). Demo a joystick at a boat show and see how it reduces the crunch factor in docking. Visit boatingmag.com/optimus-360-video-demo.
46. Watch Fireworks
Most places shoot off celebratory fireworks over water. Hence, the best view is often from a boat. For safe-viewing tips, go to boatingmag.com/tips-viewing-4th-july-fireworks-your-boat.
47. Cruise in a Houseboat
This is one of the most pleasant ways to tour many of America’s inland waters for long stretches. It’s the forgotten family vacation. To find a houseboat tour near you, go to houseboating.org.
48. Ride in an Airboat
Essentially a flat-bottomed johnboat with an airplane propeller on the back, airboats can scoot through inches of water. You can get into otherwise impassible backcountry and see some of the most beautiful sights on the water.
49. Boat in Winter
Boating in winter is another rite of passage for hardcore boaters. Taking a boat out in frigid temperatures is no joke. It requires extensive planning and safety precautions but can reward you with beautiful waters all to yourself. Learn winter-boating tips at boatingmag.com/cold-weather-seamanship.
50. Catch a 100-Pound Fish
Most people read Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea in high school, yet they have never experienced what it’s like to fight a fish that’s stronger than they are. Try to subdue a 100-pound tuna with big-game gear and see what an epic fishing battle is all about. Go to our sister publication Sport Fishing to pick up some pro fish-fighting techniques. Visit sportfishingmag.com/break-stalemate.