One of my goals over the winter
was to sit down and write a few tips on boating courtesy.
While the following will be common sense to an experienced
skipper, it may not seem as obvious to a new boater.
By new boater, we could be referring to anything
from a used runabout to a 36’ cruiser, depending on where a new owner
decided to jump in. While I didn’t have time
to write down my thoughts over the winter, I was quickly
reminded of a few thngs in early Spring when I started
In my case, I have a little 18’ runabout that
I trailer, as well as a cruiser that I keep in the
water. I’ll start with the launch ramp:
See the people sitting next to
the ramp? Every ramp has them, and they would rather
watch you than sit in front of a TV. Your challenge
is to let somebody else provide for their entertainment
and bloopers. Concerning courtesy and safety, here
are some no-brainers:
Get organized before you leave
the house. Have a checklist so you can make sure
you didn’t forget things
like boat keys or the drain plug. Yes, I have the
T-shirt for that one.
Arriving at the ramp, observe
the size of the set-up or “Tie Down” area. If you need more time
and it’s busy, consider doing some of your set-up
in a more remote location. When you do move to the
prep area at the top of the ramp, be effiecient so
as to not hold up your fellow boaters. Also, and I
just saw this this weekend: Please don’t park
at an angle blocking half the spaces. Just because
you were the only one there 5 minutes ago doesn’t
mean you’ll be the only one there when you’re
done 20 minutes later.
Kids: Please don’t leave them in the car when
you back down the ramp. More than one car has gone
into the water, and you don’t want a kid in
a car seat or seatbelt in that situation. Also, think
twice before leaving your kids on a running boat
while you go to get the car.
Backing in: The ramp was intentionally
left wide enough that several people could use
it at the same time. If there is a spot wide enough
for four trailers, please don’t back down
at an angle and block the whole thing. Others
could be waiting behind you.
Engine trouble: If you’ve decided to move the
seats, open the hatch and take apart the engine, please
pull out of the water until you’re ready to
start again. Once again, you could be holding up
Returning to the ramp: Consider
your wake. Come off plane well before the ramp
so that you don’t
wake everybody else there. The day before I wrote this,
I had a boater pass me as I was about 100’ from
docking. Then, he swerved into a spot, waking everybody
else who was there, both at the sea wall and trying
to trailer. And this guy wonders at night why the
whole world seems to be against him?
Above, and organized day at the launch
prep area at Cox Park, Louisville.
Wakes in General:
Remember that per the regulations, you are responsible
for your wakes. Besides the potential to cause damage,
there is also the discomfort to other boaters to consider.
Magnitude of the wake varies with displacement, obviously.
Our cruiser, for example, throws
out a decent wake. When we head to our favorite
anchorage and there are 5 other boats already there,
we slow to a no-wake speed in time that we won’t wake our neighbors. If
you’re going to spend a whole afternoon somewhere,
what’s an extra 120 seconds of running time?
Last summer we saw an obviously
new boater approach the anchorage. There were
four boats parked, each about 100 yards apart. A
new express cruiser came zooming in, did an arc around
us, then rafted with the boat just downstream of
us. We were rocked so much that our sliding glass
door slammed side to side 4 or 5 times. It’s
like moving into a new neighborhood--why would you
want to be rude to your neighbors and ruin your first
Also, be aware of the boats beached
along the shore. Several years ago, we were beached
at 18 Mile Island, on the KY side. A 23’ cuddy
cabin came by on plane and slammed us so badly
that the lower part of my skeg broke off. We screamed
at them, but it wasn’t
until later that we realized the damage that cost
us $200 in repairs.
Another thing on wakes-- When
you leave a raft-up and are in a hurry to get
home, consider going slowly until you pass other
boats anchored in the same area. Last time the party
broke free by 12 Mile Island, we were ready to break
out the 50mm canon for the next big boat that waked
us. Maybe first we’ll thank
them on the radio.
Above, a boat passing another at
anchor with no regard to courtesy or awareness of
Be aware of the scope of other’s anchor lines
as you manuever around them. An anchor line that starts
6 feet off the water at a 7:1 scope will be 84’ from
the boat when it is first 6 feet deep. Be careful not
do drive over somebody else’s line right off
the front of their boats. If you’re the one
at anchor, you can consider floating a bouy off your
line to increase awareness.
Also, be aware of what the wind
is doing. If the wind shifts 90 degrees or dies
down, your position will shift relative to other
boats. Interestingly, last summer I had a boater
alert me that I was dragging anchor. We had been
parked all day, and had observed the winds and relative
bearings of objects on shore. As the evening cooled
and the wind died down, we swung away from the wind
and toward downstream, getting closer to our neighbor.
No anchor drift, just a wind change with a lot of
rode out there. The other boat had little scope,
move very much in comparison. I appreciate that
the other boater was courteous enough to alert us
to what he thought was a problem that would affect
us, even though we were just fine in that case.
As a back-up at anchor, we use a GPS displaying our
position and track and have its anchor alarm set. The
GPS paints a nice pie-shaped wedge as we move within
an arc with the winds.
Risk of Collision:
The COLREGs are pretty blatent
about avoiding the risk of collision. If there
is any doubt as to whether the risk of collision
exists, there IS a risk of collision. You should
turn early and enough so that the other vessel knows
what you are doing. Case law, by the way, indicates
that this should be a minimum of 45 degrees, but
matter as much unless you get hit.
Sounds simple enough, right? As I write this, just
yesterday I was cruising by 18 Mile Island, with only
2 other boats in sight. One was heading straight for
us, so I turned to starboard. They turned again in
our path. I turned back to port. As if they had no
idea what was happening around them, they turned back
infront of us. With a 70 mph closure speed, I turned
again to starboard. About this time, they figured out
that there was a problem and turned away from us. Did
I mention that these were the same people who tied
up the ramp for 30 minutes working on their engine?
Yep, true story.
At night, many new boaters misuse
their spotlights. They are not headlights, but
rather a tool to use to identify objects. If you
watch the professional tug captains, you will notice
that they use their spots to identify markers, and
may occasionally use them to illuminate thier decks
to draw attention to other boaters on a collision
course. Boaters rely on their night vision to see
objects with required lighting, and a blast of white
light can affect the night vision drastically. It
can take a full 20 minutes to regain your full night
vision, which is why pilothouses use red ligthing
at night to read things such as charts. If you run
with more than an occasional glimpse from your spotlight,
you are affecting the way others will be able to
see objects out there.
those new pontoon boats with the cool docking lights?
Please, use them for docking. They are not headlights,
and will blind your neighbors.
How about those ads on TV where
everybody waves? For some reason, cute girls
on board seems to bring a higher wave/response
ratio. Wonder why that is? Any way, it is a nice gesture
that seems to remind others that you’re out
to have fun, also. We taught our kids to wave to
everybody, except to the one little red boat that
always wakes us.
The bottom line is that we still have a relatively
small boating community. Over time, you will see the
same boaters repeatedly, so exercise common courtesy
and hope that the same will be returned to you.
-Captain Eric Grubb
Everybody playing nice at the ramp
on a busy Sunday afternoon.
Founder, Port KY
Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.
As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.
Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.