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Boating Courtesy

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 boating again.

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:

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 others.

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 impression?

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 their wake.



Anchor Lines:

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, and didn’t 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 that doesn’t 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.

Boat Lighting

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.

What about 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.


Eric Grubb
Founder, Port KY
Licensed Master

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.



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