Cheat Sheet

Power Boating For Dummies

From Power Boating For Dummies by Randy Vance

Power boating is a fun and relaxing hobby so long as your boat is seaworthy and ready to launch. Simple checks can help make sure that it’s both. As one of the more powerful crafts on the water, you need to know when to give way and when it’s your right to stand on course when encountering another boat.

How to Determine the Seaworthiness of a Power Boat

Whether you’re buying a new or pre-owned power boat or preparing to sell yours, you need to make sure that the boat is shipshape and seaworthy. The following list spells out the checks to make before you buy or sell a power boat:

The boat is approved by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). The upholstery is firm, the stitching tight, and the vinyl snug with no wrinkles.
The screws are tight, and the heads are snug and level in their holes. In sea trials, the boat feels solid and takes reasonable waves without heavy rattling or flexing.
The wiring is logical and easy to trace, and the connections are tight and free of corrosion. Storage compartments are ample and easy to access, and they have drains.
Every switch and lever and the items they control function properly. The hull is dry in the bilge or engine compartment (or at least the water is slight and not increasing in quantity).
The stereo and speakers produce normal sound. (Plug a CD and an MP3 player into the system.) Every through-hull fitting is tightly clamped and caulked to the hull, and all hose clamps are tight. Through-hull fittings below the waterline on the best boats are double clamped.
The hatches and doors fit and latch — and stay latched even if you hit waves. Any panels that open and close should function and latch properly. The engine compartment hatch fits tightly and latches and won’t pop up while underway. At wide open throttle, the wind can rip an engine compartment hatch all the way off if it pops open. (You’d be surprised at how many boats fail this test!)
The windshield is on straight and firm. The engine should idle smoothly without stalling, accelerate smoothly, and accept sudden acceleration and deceleration of the throttle without stalling.
Ladders, rails, and grab handles are firmly fastened. Ladders should be deployable from in the water. The boat should reach its wide-open throttle (WOT) revolutions per minute (RPM) without missing or sputtering at wide-open throttle. (You can find this specification on the particular engine maker’s Web site.) Too low or too high an RPM range at WOT indicates a poorly matched propeller or a poorly running engine.
Caulk is evenly applied around hatches and other areas that should be watertight. The caulk bead is smooth, and the caulk is in good condition and not peeling, moldy, or cracked. *

Checks to Make before You Launch Your Power Boat

Before you launch your power boat, it pays to run through a short checklist to make sure that your boat is ready for the water and ready to disengage from its trailer. Doing the checks in the following list can save you from making embarrassing, and potentially harmful, mistakes:

  • Is the bilge plug in?

  • Have you disconnected and removed the transom straps, and locked them in your tow vehicle?

  • Have your loosened the bow winch just enough so that the strap has a few inches of slack?

  • Are fenders and docklines attached?

  • Is all last-minute gear loaded?

  • Is the battery switch on (if you have one)?

  • Have you double-checked the battery charge level? (Turn on the key just long enough to hear the engine fire, and then quickly turn it off.)

  • Is the engine trailering support bracket disengaged?

Following Right-of-Way Boating Rules

When you’re cruising along in your power boat, you’re rarely alone on the water, so you need to know, and follow, boating rules. In boat-speak, you and your vessel either stand-on course because you have the right-of-way, or you give way to a vessel and let it pass first. The action you take depends on what you and the other vessel are doing.

Sailboats under sail power only are always the stand-on vessels in crossing and meeting situations, so look out for them when you’re under power. Also, commercial vessels restricted by their draft or by fishing gear, such as nets or trawls, hold privilege over all recreational vessels, including sailboats.

Passing a boat

  • Your vessel: If you’re following another vessel in a river, narrow canal, or marked channel, you’re the give-way vessel, meaning you have the greater burden of responsibility should anything go wrong when you try to pass. Your vessel, in this case, is also called the burdened vessel.

  • The other vessel: The vessel you want to pass is the stand-on vessel. It’s privileged and the skipper can deny you passage if she thinks it’s unsafe (or doesn’t like the color of your paint).

  • Asking permission to pass: You sound two short blasts from your horn, signifying you’d like to pass the skipper on his port (left) side.

  • Receiving permission to pass: He signals back with two short blasts to say “Okay!”

  • Permission denied: She blasts the horn five times, signifying there’s danger involved in such a maneuver. If she doesn’t respond at all, consider it five short blasts and don’t attempt to pass.

Crossing paths

  • Your vessel: You’re on a crossing course with another vessel that could result in a collision if neither boat changes course or speed.

  • The other vessel’s on the right: It’s the privileged or stand-on vessel and you must let it pass in front of you.

  • The other vessel is on the left: You’re the privileged or stand-on vessel and you must pass in front of the other vessel.

Meeting a boat head-on

  • Your vessel: You’re meeting another vessel head-on.

  • Both vessels: You should both steer to the right to such a degree that each can see the other’s intentions to pass safely portside to portside (left to left, for the landlubber).

When all else fails

When it seems like no one but you knows or follows the rules, the rules say you must give way to avoid a collision. If you exercise stand-on privilege and an accident results, you’ll be held at least partially responsible.

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