After decades of boating, professionally and recreationally, I’ve never gotten over a certain cautious feeling that flavors my deep anticipation of any excursion. I’m sure it’s more so that for the past ten years, my boating has been on the high seas where anything can go wrong and failure to prepare like a Boy Scout can cause death. Honestly, it’s that apprehension that is part of the attraction to deep-sea fishing for me.
But it serves another purpose and one I’ve learned to appreciate over the decades. It makes me prepare to boat safely. I run a mental checklist about fuel needs, location, quantity of flares, PFDs, my ICOM VHF and my SPOT locator beacon. That checklist is mixed in with stocking the cooler with plenty of fluids and creating an appropriate playlist for my stereo. It’s fun mixed with the greatest responsibility. Some of my boating friends are veteran boaters and some don’t know the risks at all.
That same joyful caution follows me to the trailer in the morning of departure. I had a Shorelandr trailer that gave me four years of heavy use on the bearings because I checked them for grease every time I went out. I checked the air in the tires, too, because I hate, hate, HATE changing a freakin’ tire on the shoulder of the toll road. But, if I have to change the tire, I’m prepared. I have my hydraulic jack, a spare tire and an 18-volt impact wrench to zip off the lug nuts.
I do all this knowing my guests don’t know it needs done and knowing they expect this is going to be a hoot with no mishaps.
It is a hoot, too, and because of my preparation and years of good luck, I’ve boated nearly without a mishap. Some jackass ran up on my transom, once. He was on probation for doing what he was doing when he hit me — lighting a doobie.
Now you may be saying that all this high-seas crap isn’t really necessary on your inland waterway, and maybe I’d have to agree on some of it.
But give this some thought: The density of boats on any river or lake is about a 1,000 times greater than on the ocean, magnifying the likelihood that something can go wrong. While that fubar moment may not be your fault, like my collision mentioned above, what happens to your crew is your responsibility.
So give some thought to your PFD count on board. Make sure those kids who legally have to wear them have one that fits properly. Encourage your crew to wear a properly fitting device, too. But, at the very least, don’t fail — like about 80 percent of boaters do — to brief your crew on safety procedures, PFD stowage and how to buckle on a PFD before you leave the dock.
And here’s my big one: If you are swimming at anchor, put the keys in a stern locker. That way, you can’t crank up the boat without knowing, knowing, KNOWING that your crew is safely clear of the prop.
Boating’s fun, captain. And it should be. It’s even more fun sharing the experience with newbies. Bring ’em up right, okay? Then, break out the beer for the grownups after you get back to the dock, if you’ve a mind to.