Women at the Helm: Tips from Captain Jana

Being a female captain is still a novelty. Recently, I went into a marina restroom. Unfortunately, I walked into the men’s room because it was marked, Captain. Oops! I hadn’t noticed that they only had two choices, “Ladies” or “Captains.” I am a female captain, and I love operating boats. It’s probably time we change the perception about women and boating. I work with many female boaters seeking a little extra training and a lot more confidence on the water.


Here are a few things that I work on to build confidence quickly:

1. Knowing how your boat handles—taking the helm

We start by getting comfortable with the boat. Try to go out on the water on less busy days with minimal winds and slack tide. Get a feel for how your boat moves and reacts, take it around the block and kick the fenders! Add speed, stop, reverse, and pay attention to how the boat responds as you maneuver at the wheel. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you will have control of your boat’s movement.

2. Understanding how to read a chart and use GPS and depth finders.

Learn More: Best Boating Apps: Navigation, Fishing, Weather & More

3. Docking a boat by being aware of how current and wind affect steering

A challenging part for many boaters is docking. Docking is generally when less experienced boaters want to turn the wheel over to the supposed “pro onboard.” Here is where practice makes perfect…or at least close enough. Practice docking by moving in and out of the slip. Alert the marina staff that you will be practicing a few times and do not need assistance. It is easier to learn when no one is watching or judging. Pay attention to how the current and wind will push your boat.

Jana cindy 2

You may bump the piling (don’t sweat it). It will give you practice communicating with your deckhand to walk a fender or throw a line. The best advice I have for you is…. Go SLOW like the PRO. Nothing will boost your confidence more than docking your boat. In my experience, women make some of the finest boat handlers and captains. So get started….

  • Take a course in basic boat handling skills (if available, find a women’s-only class) or hire a teaching captain that can help build your boating skills and confidence. I promise you that one day on the water with a captain by your side will improve your confidence 100%.
  • Take the wheel every chance you get. The adage “practice makes perfect” is valid for any boat handler. Nothing can replace time at the wheel to boost your confidence.
  • Take a chart, review your course and understand the “lay of the land.” The first time you see a boat run aground, you’ll be happy you know the waterway. Marinas and bait stores usually have updated charts.
  • Take a break and enjoy being on the water! Keep your eyes out for other women at the helm. We may be smaller in numbers but mighty good captains!


Captain Jana with my First Mate, Cindy

Read Next: Boat Handling: 5 Ways to Improve Your Boating Skills