Just Do It!

50 Things Every Boater's Gotta Try

May 1, 2003

Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Life’s short, but there’s no reason to ever have to say these three words when reminiscing. Which is why you need to get off your butt and reel in the good times-NOW! The great thing about boating is that it offers so many amazing experiences. The bad thing is that it’s almost impossible to do them all. But don’t get discouraged. We’re giving you a swift kick with 50 of the coolest things any boater can do. See how many you’ve done and then start planning the rest before the Grim Reaper unties your final dockline.

• Teach a Kid to Fish Go for flounder, go for tuna, go for the experience and closeness that it brings.

• Learn to Design a Boat Ever wonder who designs all those boats? Think you could do better? Here’s your chance. For 70 years, Westlawn School of Yacht Design (203/359-0500) has been training the best through its mail-order course. Sign on for Yacht Design Lite, good for boaters who don’t want to go pro.


• Go Racing The ultimate thrill. Power, strategy, endurance…and more power. Contact the American Power Boat Association (586/773-9700,, the country’s official governing body, to get started. There are 13 classes, including ones for kids and remote-control boaters. Grab your helmet and go.

• Charter in the Virgins Islands, that is. Captain a 40-footer for a week in February and sip piña coladas while moored off Mosquito Island’s Drake’s Anchorage for seven back-to-back perfect days. Try or for information.

• Buy the New Boat You Always Wanted Finance rates have slipped under 6 percent for fixed and under 5 percent for variables. Shop for good rates at and


• Cruise the Intracoastal Waterway This is the “big one,” the one that takes weeks, or maybe forever. You can travel more than 1,200 miles from Norfolk, Virginia, to Key West, Florida, in protected waters. Sneak up the creek and tie up alongside a shrimper in Calabash on the North/South Carolina border and get the world’s best she-crab soup.

• Make an Overnight Run Get a whole new perspective on the meaning of dark. Why waste the night sleeping? Travel at night and play in the day. Check out our Boating at Night video at

• Join the 100-Fathom Club You’ve heard of the Mile-High Club? Well, this one’s for us. If anyone asks, we’ll deny we ever made the suggestion.


• Talk Your Way out of a Speeding Ticket What should you do when that little blue flashing light is winking at you? Stuff a pillow under your mate’s muu-muu and tell the nice cop her water just broke. No mate handy? Dump the cocktail sauce on your Save the Whales T-shirt and tell him you fell on a shark hook. Under no conditions should you offer him a beer.

• Learn to Read a Chart Paper charts? How quaint. But when the power fails, it’s good to know that you can read them. Train at home with Starpath Chart Trainer software ($80; Landfall Navigation, 800/941-2219).

• Help Someone in Distress It’s satisfying to come to the rescue. Just be sure you know what you’re doing or the Coasties will have to rescue two boats instead of one. Our bible is Marine Salvage by George H. Reid ($23.50; Sheridan House).


• Raft Up It’s like being in a rocking bungalow colony. Great for the kids. Helps to form long-time friendships, too. The boat nearest the center should be the one with the hook-and it had better be substantial. Best to set two anchors at a 45-degree angle.

• Join a Yacht Club Become a member and make a whole lot of new friends. Don’t know which to join? Go to and see who’s who. It features a select list of the top 10, in case you’re fussy.

• Quit a Yacht Club Become an ex-member, keep the friends, and save the dues. Put the extra cash into the fuel tanks and leave the marina more often.

• Get Divorced and Keep the Boat Let her have the house, the kids, and the retirement fund, but do not let her have the boat. The National Center for Health Statistics says almost 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. So the numbers favor sheltering your boat, preferably in the prenup.

• Become an Ace Navigator Have you tried leaving a trail of bread crumbs to find your way back to the marina but found fat seagulls instead? Learning by doing is best. Take on-water classes with the Florida Cruising School (800/262-7939).

• Know the Secrets of GPS Leave the ranks of those who lump GPS operation in the same category as programming a VCR. It’s a great tool when you finally understand all it can do. Manufacturers offer videos, which are better than manuals, to help.

• Dock Like a Pro How satisfying it is when you back in perfectly against a crosswind and running tide-and someone is there to see it. No problem with twins, but with a single screw, remember the old adage “right back to port”-a right-handed prop (most are) will push the stern to port when backing.

• Enter a Predicted Log Contest The ultimate proof that you know your boat so well is that you can bring it around a predetermined course within a preset time. Join the folks who excel at North American Cruiser Association (209/462-2986).

• Trailer to the Ocean If you’ve been on fresh water only, you owe it to yourself to see the sea. It’s big and blue and goes up and down a lot. It also leaves a gritty scale all over the deck, topsides, and trailer. Yuck. Maybe saltwater boaters should trailer to lakes.

• Catch a Humongous Billfish Offshore fishing is the ultimate trip. Catching a big one and having the humanity to release it for another day is the ultimate gesture. You’ll have the best chance off Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island.

• Learn to Row A basic boating skill. When pulling, bury the blade so its top is just below the water. You can’t be officially “salty” and not know how to row. Plus, it builds your back, legs, and pecs.

• Get Your Captain’s License You need one only if you carry passengers for hire. But it’s a sign to all that you Da Man. You must be able to prove one year of experience, three months of which must be within the last three years. Plus, you’ll have to pass tests on Rules of the Road, charting, seamanship, and safety.

• Own a Perfectly Broken-in Pair of Boat Shoes It usually takes a full season of salt spray, clamming in the mud, and changing the oil. Once that’s done, it’s heaven for the feet for another four or five years. Appropriate candidates come from Sperry, Timberland, and Sebago. Cheap imports give you away as a wannabe-to be shunned by all.

• Take (and Pass With Flying Colors) a Safe Boating Course This shows you had the good sense to get some formal training in the basics. Also good for the insurance premiums, which typically go down by 5 percent.

• Learn to Tie a Bowline Left-handed, right-handed, and with your eyes closed. This is the world’s most useful knot. For an animated demonstration, go to It’s a blast.

• Become a BOATING Boat Tester Blood, sweat, and gears. It’s not all sun and fun. You’ll need years of experience, and you’ll wind up putting in hours crawling around hot bilges and snooping under deck fittings. But it’s better than your current job by a nautical mile.

• Make a Coastal Passage Going offshore is thrilling. Especially when you don’t throw up. Learn to use your depthsounder as a navigational tool. Charts show sounding lines that you can either follow or use to turn an approximate position into a fix.

• Participate in a Poker Run You and a bunch of other crazies in mega-fast boats run like mad to find five checkpoints where you pick up a playing card. The boat with the best hand at the end wins. Why go fast? No one knows, but it sure is fun. Call Poker Run America (905/624-8218) for this season’s schedule.

• Introduce a Friend to Boating Share the experience. Show someone your world and see her take to it like a fish to water.

• Go to a Boat Show With Cash Looking for the deal of a lifetime on the radar or GPS you’ve always wanted? The last day of the show is best. This is when the real bargains can be had and Ca$h Is King. Find out the where and when of any show at

• Do a Screamin’ 180 on a Waterbike No other craft is as maneuverable. Top 25 mph, throw your weight to one side as you haul the bars over in the same direction, and hold on so you don’t get thrown off. You’ll be accompanied by a beautiful wall of spray.

• Learn to Scuba Dive Even if you’re a bit porky, once under, you’re weightless. This thrilling sport has its dangers, so play it smart and get certified. NAUI, PADI, and YMCA are the big three accrediting groups. Call your local chapter for schedules.

• Go Away for a Long Weekend by Yourself Take the boat, a book, a case of suds, and veg out for a couple of days to recharge your batteries. Make sure someone can find you by giving him or her a float plan-the who, what, where, and when of your cruise. Do it online at

• Take a Factory Tour The best way to know how a boat is built is to watch. Boatbuilders are proud of what they do and love to show it off. If you’re buying a boat, this is a “must do.”

• Ski Barefoot World champion Mike Seipel says anyone can do it. Attend his school or he will come to your boat (800/932-0685). Remember to keep your toes pointed up. Get good and you could break the barefoot jump record of 86′.

• Cross the Gulf Stream It’s a different world out there. The water turns indigo with gold sargasso weed, and it’s nice and warm. Has its own weather, too. The hard part is finding the Stream. Get daily position updates at

• Learn CPR and Never Have to Use It Save a drowning victim and feel like a hero from that free CPR class you took at the local library. Even if you never use this skill, it’s good to know-just in case.

• Read the Heavens Find the North Star, distinguish a planet (doesn’t twinkle) from a star, and point out at least one constellation. The Starry Night Backyard Edition software ($80 at Best Buy, Circuit City, and other stores) is a cheat sheet for your computer, showing the sky at any time from your position.

• Keep Your Boat in the Water All Winter And use it. Have the waterways to yourself for the January thaw. The big problem is ice in the engine’s cooling system. Install a T-fitting with a valve in the raw-water intake hose. When you’re through for the day, turn the valve so the engine sucks from a hose on the T that leads to a bucket of antifreeze. Stop when it comes out the exhaust.

• See a Double Rainbow Without eating Lucky Charms. It happens when light bounces off the back of raindrops not once, but twice. The secondary rays leave at a different angle than the primaries and form a rainbow about 9 degrees above the first. Best seen in a tropical setting with a chilled rum punch.

• Retire and Move Aboard This should be done as soon as possible. Doesn’t matter if you decide to cruise or stay at the dock. The idea is to wake up gently rocking, listening to the seagulls sending the masses off to work.

• Successfully Negotiate a Lock This means getting through without scratching the gel coat or getting grunge on your rubrail or hands. Use your largest cylindrical fenders. A pair of soccer goalie gloves with the little rubber grip “thingies” helps.

• Get a Compliment From a Commercial Skipper It’s one thing to be patted on the back by your peers. But to get an “attaboy” from a guy who makes his living at this is the ultimate praise.

• Pay off the Loan Better than paying off the house because now your spouse isn’t reminded every month of what it’s costing just to be in the game.

• Hire a Boatboy This is the height of capitalistic fantasy, reserved for 30-year-old investment bankers and fund managers. But think about it. You pull into your berth and toss the keys to Kato, who cleans up the mess, polishes the chrome, and restocks the wetbar.

• Voyage up the Alaskan Passage Hey, cheechako (newcomer to the north). Leave from Seattle and head for Juneau or Skagway, the end of the line. This is rough traveling, so leave lots of time, dress right, and get home before it starts getting cold in September.

• Change Your Oil…and Don’t Spill a Drop Funny how it’s the little things that mean so much. A foolproof trick for changing the filter without spilling any oil is to encase it in a plastic baggie before you loosen it. If you’ve run the engine to thin out the oil (a must), wear gloves so you don’t burn your fingers.

• Learn to (Gasp!) Sail See how the other side lives so you know what to expect from these hapless vessels. Ah, the thrill of screaming along flat out at 6 mph. It also reconfirms your feelings of superiority. Just don’t tell your friends.

• Cruise the Great Circle Route The Gulf, Atlantic, and Great Lakes are all connected by rivers that turn everything east of the Mississippi River into an island. Circumnavigate the area via what has become known as the Great Circle. Bluewater Books (800/942-2583) has a checklist for everything you’ll need.


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