Nov 19, 2019
Young men driving speed boat enjoying sunshine

I’m Driving a Boat for the First Time. Do You Have Any Tips?

I’m new to boating. A friend of mine has a boat, and he’s letting me drive it. This will be my first experience driving a boat and I’m nervous. Do you have any tips for newbies?

Boating is a fun, relaxing way to enjoy the warm weather and nature. But there’s one big thing I’m concerned about with you driving a boat: can you legally drive it?

Laws vary from state to state, but generally, you need to have a safety certification (or complete a boating education course) to legally operate a boat in state waters.

The laws are a bit more relaxed in California, which only requires boating education for people who are convicted of a moving violation while boating. But many other states will require you to have proof that you’ve completed a boater education course, including:

  • Arkansas
  • Alabama
  • Delaware
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire (when operating boats over 25 horsepower)
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • Puerto Rico
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

I’m going to assume that you’re following the law and have completed a course if you’re required to.

Driving a boat is more complicated than driving a car, so it’s not surprising that you’re nervous about your trip. But it sounds like your friend has quite a bit of experience driving a boat (he or she is a boat owner after all), so you should have guidance to help you along the way.

One of the most common causes of boat accidents is speeding. It’s easy to speed when you’re out on the water because there are no stoplights, no lanes and little traffic. But speeding on waterways can be just as dangerous as speeding on roadways. A collision with another boat, a bridge, rocks or structure can lead to severe injuries or even death.

Safety should always be your top priority when out on the water. Make sure that everyone is wearing a life vest, and that they understand how to proceed if there’s an emergency.

Check the weather before you head out. The last thing you want is to deal with stormy weather as a new boater.

If the weather looks good, there are some general rules that you should follow out of courtesy to your fellow boaters.

  • Get on and off the boat ramp quickly. Other boaters need to use the ramp, too. Load your boat ahead of time and not while you’re on the ramp.
  • Go slow when docking so that you don’t damage the boat or the dock.
  • Wave to your fellow boaters, be courteous to your neighbors, and always clean up after yourself.

Driving the boat on the water isn’t all that complicated. Follow the signs, don’t speed and make sure that you stay sober while operating the vessel. Docking can be tricky. Make sure that the boat is tied up before jumping off, and don’t position yourself or others between the boat and the dock.

Use common sense, and you should be fine. Try to relax and enjoy yourself.

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