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Everything You Need to Know About Owning a Boat (Part 3)


"Bro, I just got this sick new bowrider, bring your girl down on Saturday and let's party"

This is a very common thing to want to do, show off your new toy.  After all you probably paid a lot of money for your new boat and you want your friends and family to see and enjoy it with you.  Boating is very often a social lifestyle and it's fun to spend time with people on the water.  But if you're new to boating you need to take it slow.  Just because your boat says it can handle ten people doesn't mean you should take ten people out on your first trip.  Cygnet legally holds 42 people but we've never had that many.  We usually cap it at 30 and prefer under 20.  Our 22 foot SeaRay was rated for ten people and five was comfortable, six was crowded.
Family on board, including the departed Beverly and Steve.
Now that you've spent a few days practicing with someone it's time to take a group out.  If this is a sailboat it will actually make things easier on you as you can delegate people to specific tasks.  People like to help, don't be afraid to ask.  You need a first mate, and this may be your wife, husband, friend, whomever you trust to be second in command.  This is someone who will be responsible on the entire outing, not get drunk, not be distracted by the pretty girls or handsome guys that your other friends brought, and keep a cool head.

Colette at the helm when Kevin needed a break.
Kevin is usually the one who drives Cygnet and Colette is the first mate.  But, just because it's more normal for the male partner to drive doesn't mean they should be in command, it may be a blow to a guy's ego if the woman is better at docking but who cares when the boat arrives safely back at the dock in one piece?  We know boat owners who don't even drive their own boat, they hire someone or let a trusted friend or family member take care of that task.  Kevin spends a lot of time alone on the flybridge driving while people are hanging out having fun on the bow watching the waves roll by.  He doesn't mind, in fact sometimes it's nice, but sometimes it can be lonely and it isn't always the most glamorous part of owning a boat.  Kevin is also a pretty good captain (full disclosure this is un-humble Kevin writing this) so it makes sense for him to be in command.  Colette can handle Cygnet if she needs to but Kevin is the most experienced and best choice for maneuvering in tighter spaces like River City or the Chicago Lock.  
Mike attempts to pay attention to the rope, but when pretty girls are around it's tough.
Find your mate and let them know what they're responsible for.  They will help with lines and communication when docking, they will always be looking out while underway for other vessels and hazards.  Recently Kevin was on Lake Michigan with another experienced captain on his boat.  The captain looked at the GPS to make sure we were on course while going through some larger waves and in a matter of a few seconds we came upon a large piece of wood floating miles off shore.  Kevin was aware of the captain's GPS task and was able to spot the debris and alert the captain in time to avoid a collision.  That's how it should be done.  The mate should also know a bit about the rules for navigation, helping the captain find markers and knowing where the boat is and how to get where you want to go.  They need to know where the safety equipment is, things like the PFDs, flares, safety flag, and first aid kit.  They should also have at least a basic understanding of how to operate the boat if the captain becomes sick or injured.  Lastly, they need to be the one that the captain will listen to if they notice a problem.  It's no secret, boating and drinking are synonymous, and sometimes the captain isn't immune to the lure of a cold beer on a hot day.  If the captain is getting sloppy the first mate needs to let them know and the captain needs to respect the mate's judgement.  

Before we take Cygnet out with new people we always give a safety speech.  Even with people who've been on Cygnet before we like to refresh their memories about what to do and how to react in an emergency.  Everyone on board should know what to do if someone falls in the water.  Everyone should know where the PFDs are stored, how to flush the toilet, where they can find drinking water, etc.  
Colette mimes the safety speech.  (photo credit Colin Lenehan)
Now you've left the dock, the fenders are stowed, the lines are safely tucked away, all children have PFDs on (check your state's laws for what age they need them, it's commonly under 13 years old) When you're finally out on the water your guests may not realize how drunk they are getting.  The motion of the boat hides a lot of the symptoms of drinking too much.  Make sure you have enough food and water on board to help someone who's had too much to drink.  The sun is also much stronger on the water since it reflects back up at you.  An hour on the water will burn skin much faster than an hour in the back yard.  Keep hydrated, wear more sunscreen than you think you need, and wear a hat or use shade when you can.  
Sun, waves, motion, swimming, and fun can tire everyone out.
Have lots of garbage bags and paper towels on board.  We like paper plates and disposable cups and silverware for the cleanup and safety reasons, although we don't like the ecological impact.  Understand, these things will blow around and some may fall in the water.  Try to pick them up if you can, try to buy compostable plastics.  If they do end up in the water it's better than petroleum based plastics that will only get smaller as they photo degrade and never fully break down.  Never intentionally throw anything in the water, although Kevin has been known to toss shrimp tails and strawberry leaves in.  If you don't litter on land don't litter on water.  

When you are maneuvering the boat make sure people are prepared for your movements.  If someone is stretching to take a selfie on the bow don't suddenly turn and knock them down or off the boat.  When docking we ask that everyone without a task stay seated until the captain says it's OK to get up.  This is not easy for people to comprehend, and you will understand this soon after getting your boat.  There is something about returning to the dock that makes people jump up and want to get off the boat ASAP.  It's a bit annoying, you just want to get the lines attached and power cords plugged in and everyone will be looking for shoes and grabbing coolers and cleaning up and be completely in your way.  We ask every time for people to sit but they usually forget and get up anyway.  It's not just with us, we see it on other boats too, it's just a psychological thing in non-boaters to get off the boat the moment it arrives in the slip.  

Don't be afraid to ask for or accept gas money.  Boats are expensive, a day out on Cygnet could be hundreds of dollars in gas.  Kevin rarely accepts gas money but sometimes people want to help out and you may be insulting them if you don't take it.  We used to ask people to chip in ten bucks on Two Wright but when we got Cygnet we decided to stop that practice.  It's our pleasure to have people go out with us and the cost of gas isn't something we worry about, it's a cost of operating the boat and we prepare for it.  But if you are short on funds or your guests are taking home some of the fish you caught, or drank your beer all day, don't feel bad about asking, just keep it reasonable and don't be mad if they can't give you any.
The gas dock is where credit cards go to die.
Now you return with your group and have the boat safely nestled in its slip.  Clean everything up now, don't leave it for tomorrow, that humus won't wipe up easier when it dries out overnight.  We're guilty of this, sometimes you're tired and just need to relax but at least get the spills taken care of.  Leave any PFDs or water toys that got wet in a place where they'll dry, not in a stale locker where mold will grow.  You may even need to take some with you if you don't have the free space on the boat.  Check the lines are tight, the bilge pump is powered and everything that should be off is off.

Next time on a very special Water We Thinking:  Maintenance, yes you need to take care of it.

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