Boat Handling: 5 Ways to Improve Your Boating Skills

boat handling

Waterways are filled with friendly boaters, just think of how many times someone has waved as you passed by. As much as there’s shared appreciation of this fantastic boating lifestyle, there’s a greater appreciation for boating properly and safely.

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Whether it's the middle of summer or the coolest part of winter—and even when its too cold to hit the water in some parts of the country—any time is an ideal time to practice and improve your boat handling skills. Knowledge is power, after all.

Follow these six boat handling tips to ensure a tip of the hat comes with those friendly waves whenever you find yourself on the water.

Boating Safety Tips for 2021: Advice from Real Captains


1. Enroll in Boating Safety & Training Courses

Most states require boat owners and operators have some type of formal educational training or even a boating license. If you haven’t already, sign up for instruction, provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and other top-notch organizations you'll find listed on our Boat Safety Courses, Education & Training page. Some courses are online, while others are in person.

If you want to get started right away, you can also study some of our step-by-step boat handling guides right here on Discover Boating. We cover all the basics:

Driving a Boat: Step-by-Step Guide


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2. Practice Your Navigation Skills

If there’s a secluded beach you’ve been dying to anchor off of, map out your route now. This way, you’ll be even more confident when you cast off the lines.

Check your nautical charts, or a marine navigation app, for water depths, submerged obstacles, or other potential difficulties along the way, too.

Marine Navigation: How to Navigate a Boat


3. Double Check Your Onboard Equipment

Start with life jackets. Now’s the time to ensure buckles and seams are intact, and that the flotation devices don’t have holes, either.

Also ensure that your kids haven’t outgrown the life jackets they used last summer as well—we have a whole guide to help you, see Life Jackets, Vests & PFDs: How to Choose the Right Fit.

Boat Essentials: What Supplies Do I Need on My Boat?


4. Learn Your Boating Knots

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Tying oneself up in knots is a good thing in this case. Can you tell a cleat hitch from a clove hitch? Take some time to get familiar with all the basic boating knots—check out our step-by-step instructions here.

Then, keep some spare line by the TV or your favorite chair to ensure you keep practicing.

5 Basics Boating Knots for Beginners


5. Ask for Advice

Last but not least, ask for specific help to improve your boat-handling skills—and do it well before spring launch.

  • Is there a fellow slip holder at your marina who always seems to know what to do?
  • Or maybe your friend or family members who's been boating for years, could show you the ropes?
  • How about the dealer who sold you your boat—has he or she encouraged you to reach out with questions?

Take advantage of these knowledgeable people now, to become one of them yourself. 

Read Next: Basic Boating Etiquette

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