Chapter 3: Launching and Operation

Chapter Review

This chapter covered how to prepare for a safe day of boating. Through radio, TV, or the internet one can learn about the presence of fog, strong winds, or lightning storms before they hit and one can head back to shore before being put in any danger.

Float Plan

Filing a Float Plan

These documents detail where planning to boat and how long one is expected to be gone. When left with a friend, family member, or the local marina, they can be instrumental in alerting people that something is wrong if an accident should occur while out on the water.

Pre-Departure Checklist

Pre-Departure Checklist

Finally, one will want to use a pre-departure checklist to make sure one is prepared for anything that may happen out on the water. Going over the pre-departure checklist, even for a brief trip, will go a long way in keeping one safe while you're out on the water.

Transporting and Trailering:

Getting the boat to the water is an involved process, and just like operating a boat on the open water, there are safety guidelines and regulations. The most important parts of this section are making sure one has the right equipment, that it has the proper capacity for the vessel, and that one is appropriately securing it to the trailer. 

Trailers have capacity plates as well and they can tell one how much weight the trailer can safely tow. When determining the total weight of the vessel, one must include the motor, fuel, and any gear. This total is what is used to determine whether on is within the trailer's capacity, but even then one should avoid exceeding 80% of the load capacity of the trailer. The last important thing to remember about towing a boat is to make sure the weight and fuel are distributed evenly and that all items are secured and tied down, on the vessel. If weight distribution is uneven or the weight shifts while driving it can cause difficulties steering.

Transporting and Trailering

Launching and Retrieving:

One of the most important things covered in this chapter is proper etiquette when getting a boat ready for launch. The best practice is to prepare the vessel for launch away from the actual launch site so that one is not blocking other boaters who are trying to launch or retrieve boats.

When launching the boat one should back into the water until only the back trailer tires are submerged, but keep the towing vehicle's tires out of the water. When ready to retrieve the boat, back into the water until two-thirds of the trailer's bunks or rollers are submerged. However, keep the towing vehicle's wheels out of the water, if possible. Before retrieving, be sure to clean the vessel to stop the spread of nuisance aquatic species.

Safe Fueling:

Gasoline and gasoline fumes can cause fires. So, it's important to focus on safety when fueling a boat. Here are a few tips to remember:

  • Unload any passengers and portable fuel tanks before fueling.
  • Make sure that the boat is secured to the fueling dock.
  • Make sure that the engine is turned off.
  • Do not completely fill the tank as gas needs room to expand.
  • Make sure no one is smoking and that there are no open flames near the fueling area.
Safe Fueling

Because gasoline fumes can build in the bilge and cause fires or explosions, ventilation is a necessary safety precaution for boats with inboard engines. If one is using a powered ventilation system, one must run it for 4 full minutes to ventilate the fumes before starting the engine.

Boat Maintenance:

Part of being safe on the water is ensuring that the boat and equipment are in good condition. Of the tips covered in this chapter, some of the most important are to always use approved parts and never substitute automotive parts for manufacturer or marine approved ones.

Checking Weather and Water Conditions:

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.) makes regular radio broadcasts about the current weather forecast. The N.O.A.A. also makes use of a system of flags to warn boaters about severe conditions. These can range from Small Craft Advisory Flags (winds of 18-33 knots) to Hurricane Flags (winds of 64 knots or higher). If one sees one of these flags, it's best to go boating another day.

Small Craft Advisory

Small Craft Advisory

Winds of 18 to 33 knots or 24 to 38 miles per hour

Gale Warning

Gale Warning

Winds of 34 to 47 knots or 39 to 54 miles per hour

Storm Warning

Storm Warning

Winds greater than 48 knots or 55 miles per hour

Hurricane Warning

Hurricane Warning

Winds greater than 64 knots or 74 miles per hour

Coping with Foul Weather:

But, if you find yourself out boating when foul weather strikes, we also learned some tips on how to increase your safety. The most important of which is to always wear your life jacket if foul weather is approaching or if you're caught in it. It's best to always wear your PFD, but in these situations, it becomes necessary and crucial. If you learn that a storm is approaching, have everyone on board put their PFDs on and head for shore. If you are operating your vessel in a lightning storm, unplug all electrical equipment. If the waves and winds are high, approach all waves at a 45-degree angle to keep your vessel stable. Do not head into high waves, head on.

Local Hazards:

Weather isn't the only potential hazard while out on the water. Check for local hazards before heading out. The best way to learn about any local hazards is to ask local boaters and workers and the local marina.

Shoaling areas are an example of a local hazard to look out for. These areas become shallow very gradually and, without paying attention, one may end up running aground. Low head dams are also difficult to detect and very dangerous, especially to small craft. These hazards are dangerous both above and below the dam.