Congratulations! You just bought a new boat!

Do you know how to operate it?

That’s a question we don’t ask very often, but probably should. We assume that every boat owner is experienced in the ways of the seas, knows bow from stern, starboard from port and can just jump in, mash the ‘on’ button, and motor off happily and safely.

Most of us learn boating from watching family and friends who own boats. (We also learn lots of new inventive curse words, too!). That’s a good way to pick up the basics: rules of the road, how to cast off and dock, the mechanical aspects of the boat, and loads of other helpful information.  We also watch our mentors make mistakes, which is one of the best ways to learn.

But most boaters can benefit from taking a boating course from a qualified instructor. It’s important to learn about boating safety, about navigation, about how a boat works mechanically and things to watch out for, about different weather conditions and how they affect boats and so much more.

You can read books (start with Boating Skills and Seamanship, published by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary), or watch hours of YouTube videos, but taking an approved boating safety and skills class is much better. You can ask questions and get direct answers from an experienced instructor. Many boating classes mix in-classroom instruction with hands-on experience in a boat.

There are plenty of places to sign up for a boating safety class. The Coast Guard Auxiliary has an online list of courses in your area. Other organizations that offer boating courses include the U.S. Power Squadron, the Boat US Foundation, and Boat-Ed, which offers a course approved by the Mass. Environmental Police.

(Many of those organizations also offer on-line or video classes).

Before you start boating, you should be knowledgeable about these boating basics:

  • Basic boating terminology
  • Know how to read navigational aids
  • Know how to fill out and file a Float Plan
  • Know the required safety equipment you need on board
  • Know how to safely trailer and launch a boat
  • Know how to securely set an anchor
  • Know how to navigate with a compass
  • Know how to use a VHF radio
  • Know how to dock a boat and tie off dock lines

If you’re uncertain about any on that list, go back to school! When it comes to boating, more knowledge can save your life.