9 Tips for Successful Boating on Busy Waterways
2020 saw record highs for boat ownership, with an increase of 35% in new boat ownership and 415,000 new boaters taking to the open waters since 2020. Water Sports Foundation’s Executive Director Jim Emmons says the waterways look extra crowded post-pandemic! That’s why Rocket Marine actively promotes safe boating strategies before the busy summer season starts!
Boating in crowded waters is stressful and has the potential to be dangerous. Many of us don’t get to take our boats out on the water as often as we would like. The result? Many of us only get to go out during the stereotypical weekends of Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the 4th of July when the waterways are full of inexperienced boaters.
Unfortunately, many boaters only take their boat out several times per season. When you don’t go out often, it is easy to forget the rules of the boating road. In addition, experience levels are dangerously low. Ideally, try to avoid boating in overcrowded waters. But if the water is calling and you can’t fight the urge, follow these 9 tips for successful boating on busy waterways!
Biggest Tip For Navigating Busy Waterways
First, let’s talk about the three common boating navigation situations you will most likely face on crowded waterways. The most important rule to follow is Give-Way vs. Stand-On.
The United States Coast Guard’s U.S. Inland Navigation Rules (also known as the rules of the road) note that the give-way boat is the boat that must yield in any given situation while the stand-on boat shall maintain course and speed. So, naturally, this leads to most boaters asking: “What makes the give-way boat the give-way boat? And what makes the stand-on boat the stand-on boat?”
Are you the give-way or stand-on boat?
There are three main ways that boats get caught up with one another on the water: meeting head-on, overtaking, or crossing.
Let’s take a quick peek at each situation.
1. Meeting Head On
If you are close to meeting head-on, assume you will meet head-on. In this situation, each boat should maneuver to avoid the other by adjusting its course and pulling starboard.
If one boat decides to overtake or pass another boat, the overtaking boat is the give-way boat and should stay out of the way of the boat they intend to pass (Stand-On). The Give-Way vessel should pass to the stern of the Stand-On ship.
If two power-driven boats are crossing, the boat on the starboard (right) side of you has the right of way. This is because they are the stand-on boat.
Who Has The Right Of Way?
We will share several acronyms that may help you remember who has the right of way when you are out on busy waters. We have them listed from lowest to highest priority!
- Power – Powerboats and sailboats that are motoring always have the lowest priority because their engines enable them to maneuver faster and easier.
- Sailing – Sailing, not motoring
- Fishing – Fishing boats where the angler is actively engaged in fishing (i.e., nets or lines are out in the water).
- CBD – Constrained by draft. A boat that can’t easily alter its course due to the wind or waves.
- RAM – Restricted in their ability to maneuver. A boat that can’t move because other boats, landmarks, or something else is preventing them from moving successfully
- NUC – Not Under Command. If there is no captain, that boat obviously has the top priority because the vessel isn’t slowing down for anyone!
Regardless of if you are the stand-on or give-way boat, always strive to treat your fellow captains with respect. When overtaking another boat, provide as much room as possible between you and the slower boat, so your wake doesn’t disturb them. If another boat overtakes you, slow down a little to make it easier for them.
Tips for Boating on Busy Waterways
1. Avoid The Chaos
If you don’t need to be out on the water right away, take some time to enjoy the great view from the dock, socialize with your friends, and ensure everything is ready to go. Then, wait for the chaos to calm down before setting sail.
2. Know How To Handle The Launch
The boat launch (also known as the intimidating Great Equalizer) is one of the biggest challenges novice and experienced captains face. When the launch is hectic, it is essential to know how to handle the launch and keep other boaters in mind. Load your gear in the boat before you pull up to the launch. Don’t block the ramp for longer than you have to. After launching, move your boat to the dockside so the ramp is accessible for the next boater. Then move your towing vehicle and boat trailer. When it’s time to load, do the same in reverse.
3. Respect Fishers
If you see a boat just sitting in the middle of open water or along the mangrove line, chances are they are most likely enjoying the peace and quiet of fishing. Adapt your route, so you don’t roam through their calm water and disturb all the fish. If you can’t safely avoid their space, then slow down as much as possible. If you are the one fishing, don’t fish in a busy channel, making it aggravating or impossible for other boaters not to disturb you!
4. Know The Water
Always have a navigation chart onboard and familiarize yourself with the landmarks, submerged hazards, sandbars, and channels you plan to boat. Navigation aids help prevent you from a broken hull or prop while enjoying the water! If you are boating in the ocean, keep the green aids to your right. Keep in mind “red right returning,” and keep the red markers on your right when you head back to shore. If there is no red or green marked route, navigate clockwise around landmasses.
5. Remember Your Dock Manners
Busy docks are a potentially high-stress situation. Remember that other people need the dock too. When you tie up, ensure your lines do not create tripping hazards. At the fuel dock, always pump, pay, and move out of the way!
6. Don’t Drink and Boat
Mixing sun, water, waves, and wind with alcohol may sound like an ideal day out on the water. However, it can lead to disaster. Just like drinking and driving a moving vehicle is dangerous, drinking and boating are equally hazardous to yourself, your companions, and other boaters on the water. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boaters who use alcohol are the most prominent known contributing factor in boating accidents resulting in fatal tragedies. If you want alcohol on your boat, then ensure the designated captain remains sober.
7. Slow Down
If the boaters around you do not understand or follow the boating rules or etiquette, then make sure it is safe to do so and slow down. Slowing down will create more time for you (and the boaters around you) to react and adjust their route accordingly. If you must stop (to avoid a collision), do it quickly. A boat bumping into you slowly in a very tight waterway is better than it crashing into you. In addition, when passing another boat, give yourself plenty of room. Cross over further away, so you don’t have to navigate a big wake. In addition, sound your horn to help inform another boat you intend to pass. Always try to pass on the starboard (right) side of the boat in front of you.
8. Keep A Good Look Out
Between boats rushing at you from all directions, and limited views due to cabins, bulkheads, turns in the waterway, and landmarks, it is beneficial to have your boating passengers help you keep an eye out for other boaters and potential hazards. Have your passengers take turns being on the lookout to help you stay aware of your surroundings.
9. Pick Your Destination With Care
Popular boating hotspots generate a lot of boating traffic and can create hazardous waterways. Consider your destination carefully. If you are a new boater, try to avoid going to the most popular boating venues (especially on busy holiday weekends). Instead, choose a less crowded spot. We guarantee you will have just as much, if not more fun, enjoying a less popular and less crowded destination. Remember that your ability to safely navigate, drop and set anchors and lines is infinitely more complex in close quarters. We want you to enjoy your day and be safe!
Bonus tip: Download the Coast Guard Boating Safety Mobile App
One of the absolute best ways to enjoy your day on the water and stay safe is by keeping up to date with the latest safety regulations and navigation rules. The app also gives you access to the weather report from the nearest NOAA buoys and boating safety information. You can download the Coast Guard boating safety mobile app for free on iOS and Android devices: https://uscgboating.org/mobile.
We are so happy that so many people are taking to the freedom, fun, and tranquility that the open waters bring! However, we also want to help everyone have an incredible and safe time when out on the water and getting to the water. That’s why we love educating our customers on best boating practices and tips and tricks to improve your day. We also specialize in building top-quality boating trailers so that you can safely get your boat to and from the water. See what past customers have to say about our blown outta the water service! If you have concerns or questions about the safety of your current boat trailer or need advice about finding the perfect boat trailer for you, give us a call today! Our team is standing by, eager to help ensure you stay safe this boating season!