Information For Non-Boaters Who Are Invited On A Boating Trip

  The first time I was invited on a boat I was clueless.  I didn't know about boating customs or even what to bring. 

  Boating is fundamentally a social activity.  Boaters will frequently invite friends aboard their boat for a fun day on the water.  Here are answers to some of the questions non-boaters might have before their first trip.

What safety precautions should I know about?

  Expect the captain to show you where all safety equipment is located prior to leaving the dock.  If he/she doesn’t, ask.
  Legal requirements can vary, but in general boats are required to have life jackets for each person aboard.  Know where life jackets are stored.
  Children are generally required to wear life jackets anytime they are not in a confined cabin.
  Adults are not required to wear life jackets while underway.  However, it is prudent to do so off shore or during rough conditions.  Generally your captain will let you know when you should be wearing a life vest.  Don’t hesitate to put on a life jacket if it makes you feel more comfortable.
  Many boats are equipped with a VHF two-way radio for emergency calls to the Coast Guard/law enforcement.  Use Channel 16 to call for help.  Calling 9-1-1 from a cell phone is another option, though the VHF marine radio should be your first choice.
  Most boats carry signal flares, whistles and horns to attract attention in an emergency.
  Know the location of the boat’s fire extinguisher.  Fires are very serious aboard a boat.

How should I get on/off the boat with my supplies?

  A surprising number of accidents happen to people while they are getting on- or off- the boat.  Boats can list from the weight of people boarding.  It’s very easy to fall overboard, hit your head on the dock or smash a limb between the boat and the dock.
  Follow your captain’s lead when it comes to boarding.  NEVER CARRY LARGE OR HEAVY ITEMS ON WITH YOU (such as an ice chest.)  Place all cargo on the dock. Board the boat, and then bring the cargo aboard standing on the boat.
  Only grab points on the boat that are solid.  Do not steady yourself with support poles, antennas or windshields.  Grab onto the actual boat or a handrail.

What should I bring?

  Pack a bag with sunscreen, towels and hats.  Wear a swimsuit if appropriate.  Bring other clothing (jacket, pants, raingear) if appropriate for the trip.  Hold on to your hat while underway… they can easily blow overboard.  Ask the boater if it helps to bring snorkeling gear, folding chairs, sand toys or whatever items you think might be useful on your particular trip.

What if I have to go to the bathroom?

  Most boats do not have bathrooms.  It’s best to have everyone use land facilities prior to leaving the dock.  If you must go during the trip, it is customary to jump in the water and go there.  Some boaters have a “bucket and plastic bag” set-up for emergencies.
  If the boat does have a restroom, use it only if you must.  Boat toilets are not like those at home.  They are very fragile and susceptible to clogging.  All waste is gathered in a holding tank and must be pumped out.  Use on the minimum amount of toilet paper and bowl water.  Never flush a tampon on a boat.
  If your itinerary includes a stop at a marina or park, get out and use the restrooms every time you have the chance.

Should I plan to drink alcohol?  If so, how much?

  Boating involves operating a vehicle in a potentially dangerous environment.    All states have BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) laws.  Penalties are similar to the DWI laws faced by car drivers.  Obviously anyone who plans to drive the boat should not drink to excess.
  Boating activity multiplies alcohol’s intoxicating effects.  Sun, wind, motion, noise and vibration all contribute to “boater’s fatigue.”  This means that one beer on the water will likely have the effect of two beers at home.  Know this ahead of time and plan accordingly.
  Some boaters drink every time they go out.  They feel this allows them to better relax and enjoy their time on the water.  Other boaters do not drink and do not want alcohol aboard.  It’s best to gauge your host’s attitude about drinking prior to going out.
  Personally, I enjoy social drinking and do so with friends.  However, I do not drink when I operate my boat.  I find the daylong process of launching, driving, retrieving and storing the boat very tiring.  Drinking would simply make me too tired to enjoy the day.  I do not mind if others drink responsibly on my boat.  I try to make this clear in advance of the trip so everyone is comfortable.  Thoughtful captains are wise to tactfully explain their position to guests in advance of a trip.

Should I offer to bring food, drinks and gas money?

  It’s always best to ask what you can contribute to the trip.   The boater who has asked you out may want to be your host and handle all the details.  If they say they’ve taken care of everything, great.
  As your contribution to the trip, it’s nice to offer to bring drinks and sandwiches for everyone who will be aboard.  In the end, many times the boater and guest agree to bring their own… or one party will provide drinks, the other will provide food.
  It is acceptable (and legal) to offer to pay the gas costs for the trip.  The law says a recreational boater can’t charge people for the trip.  However, it is okay for you to cover the boat’s fuel costs.
  Most non-boaters are surprised by the amount of fuel it takes to operate a boat.  Most recreational boats (16-25 feet in length) get 1-3 miles to the gallon at cruising speed (much less if you water ski or make frequent stops.)  Gas purchased at a marina will generally cost $.50-$1.00 more per gallon than it does at a gas station.  It’s not unusual for an 18-25 foot boat to burn $50-$100 worth of gas in the course of a day.    Larger boats can easily burn several hundred dollars in fuel each day.
  Realize that the boater has significant expenses beyond fuel that you cannot pay, such as storage fees, launch fees, taxes, financing, repairs, insurance, etc.

What does it cost to operate a boat?

   Many non-boaters enjoy their time on the water.  It’s only natural to wonder about the costs associated with boating.  Here is a general overview:

   Damage/liability insurance:  $400-$800 year
   Towing insurance   $100/year
   State registration   $50-$200/year
   Routine mechanical maintenance $1000/year
   Major mechanical repairs  $500-$4,000/year
   Fuel (depends on use) $100-$1000/month
   Miscellaneous expenses  $750/year

   In water marina storage  $200-$800/month
   “Dry” marina storage  $200-$400/month
   On-trailer storage   $60-$120/month

   Trailer purchase   $1000-$4000

    Jet Ski (new)   $6,000-$10,000
    Pontoon boat (new)   $9,000-$25,000
    Runabout (new, 16-24’) $10,000-$70,000
    Cruiser (new, 24-28’)  $50,000-$175,000
    Yacht (30-70’)  $150,000-$2,000,000

Should I offer to help after the trip?

  There is one-to-two hours worth of clean-up following a boat trip.  This includes organizing all equipment, removing trash, washing the entire boat with soap and water, cleaning the decks, flushing the engine with clean water, unhitching the trailer and covering the boat for storage.  Most boaters will appreciate your help with these chores.

Other tips for boating guests:

- Expect minor cuts & bruises.  It’s common for minor mishaps to happen on a boat trip.

- Do not wear black-soled shoes.  They scuff the decks.  These scuffs are difficult to clean.

- Offer to help when docking the boat or putting it on a trailer.

- Backing a boat trailer is dangerous.  The driver cannot see well.  Watch to make sure that you, your children and other boaters are clear of any trailer moving in reverse.

- If you have a child-size life jacket for your child, offer to bring it.

- It’s easy to get dehydrated when boating.  Pack water bottles to compliment your sodas or beer.

- “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”  The captain will have to move around the boat during the trip, especially during anchoring or docking.  Expect it, stay out of the way and keep your unused gear stowed.

- Keep children clam and quiet during launching, docking and retrieving.  These activities require a lot of concentration and communication between captain and crew.

- If you spend the night on a boat, expect the captain to set a “lights out” time for everyone aboard.  Even a large boat is a small space.  Noise travels easily… making a coordinated bedtime a must if everyone is to get a good night’s sleep.

- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  Boating is a wonderful activity.  If someone has invited you out on his or her boat, take advantage of the opportunity! 
  Remember that boating is all about having fun. Expect a few unexpected things to happen and roll with the punches. 

  For more information, read
"How to be a Good Boating Guest", an article by Ray McAllister.

  Have a great trip!
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