Boating blunder: they can be costly

Published 5:15 pm Friday, October 11, 2013

If you’ve been boating any length of time, like me, you’ve experienced judgment errors or lapses in attention, each yielding unpleasant consequences. I’m sharing some of my boating blunders to show that even with good training and experience, things can go awry. My training and experience was completion of a Power Squadron Safe Boating Course in 1986. I’ve logged a couple thousand engine hours since then.

An early blunder, navigating the Intracoastal Waterway south of Charleston, S.C., I lost count of my buoys. I turned too early, running aground, but luckily, not hard aground.

On the same trip, a friend, my wife and I cruised up a tidal creek to spend the night. This friend, a man 30 years my senior, was no boating novice. He served as a helmsman in the merchant marine as well as on a sub chaser during World War II. Plus, he had experience in the Charleston area tides and I had none.

The next morning, when we were to return to the ICW, I dilly-dallied, not listening to my experienced friend. The creek’s mouth was an expansive mud flat, well underwater when we entered on the rising tide. Now in a falling tide, while water covered, it disguised the creek channel’s exit. Selecting a course, slowly we motored toward the ICW only to run up on the mud flat that we backed off. We now felt our way out with my wife on the bow poking a boat hook in the water checking depth.

Another of my blunders was an Ohio River launch. With a mate holding a line attached to the boat, I backed the trailer into the water. Going to the bow, I hung over and released the safety chain. Returning to the helm and because a boat sometimes needs a little nudge to float free, I engaged reverse. The boat didn’t budge. I applied a little power and still nothing happened. Tilting the out drive down, I applied more power and the boat remained steadfast to the trailer. I mentally now reviewed my standard pre-launch process. Because of an unusual launch environment, a long, steep launch ramp, I had not removed the rear tie down straps. I had to power the boat forward to release the tension my earlier antics put on the straps.

While I’ve never experienced that sinking feeling from the dreaded stern plug omission, I’ve watched it. Beware of that offense.

Later, boating on Lake Erie, our marina had a pool next to the county launch ramp. Sunday afternoon entertainment was a cold brew by the pool watching the boat recovery blunders.

Too often during launch, boaters fail to attach a line to the boat and have someone on the dock hold the line. The boat floats off the trailer with no one aboard and no line to corral a now errant boat. I almost made that blunder.

The reverse blunder is trying to launch the boat under power without removing the safety chain. One guy was so intent in getting his boat off the trailer that he almost pulled his truck into the water.

Next, we’d all agree that backing a trailer is a learned art, right? One fellow tried a dozen times but couldn’t align the trailer with the launch ramp. His wife yanked the poor guy from the pick up and proceeded to back the trailer into the launch ramp . . . . gouging the hull’s 26’ length on a metal sign beside the ramp drive. From fifty feet away you could just hear the scraping and

grinding but…she got it in the water!

Next, I can only attest to the outcome of this boat recovery, not to the circumstances leading to it. In somewhat windy conditions, a man unable to get his 23” fishing boat on the trailer correctly, put the boat on the trailer stern first. Yes, stern first, pulled it out of the water, secured it and went down the road. Yes, fact is stranger than fiction.

Even the most experienced boater in the best of circumstances has attention lapses or judgment errors. Fortunately, my blunders have thus far caused no real damage and endangered no life. My wish is that you are as fortunate.

A nautical apparel store sold many T-shirts embrazoned with “Boat – Break Out Another Thousand”. May each of your boating blunders be a learning opportunity and not cost you another thousand.

For boating safety and education that can keep away the “blunders”, visit your local Power Squadron web site at or contact Tom at 252-946-7632 or for upcoming boating classes and seminars.