Testing a boat

Comfort, looks and price are starting points in boat shopping, but no purchase should even be considered before you complete these six tests. We test boats for different reasons than a potential buyer would. Mostly, we want to see if a boat has any idiosyncrasies that might get a less-experienced operator into trouble.

When testing a boat, you should watch out for these six aspects when taking out your potential purchase for a spin:

1. Safety

This is a biggie. Most performance-safety issues concern turning. Conduct this test with no passengers and only after hooking up the red safety lanyard we call the kill switch. In open water, check to see that no other vessels are nearby. Sit down and brace yourself. With your engine trimmed for porpoise-free running at about 45kmph, crank the wheel hard over.

Does the boat power through the turn smoothly, or does the prop lose its “bite” or blow out, dumping speed? If the boat surges and bolts in this maneuver, it’s a sign of a poor match among hull, drive system and prop. Also, some straight inboard vessels can suffer from rudder stall. This means that when you turn the wheel hard over, the boat starts to turn and then just plows straight ahead. This usually means the rudder is poorly designed, and creates turbulence rather than channeling water. Finally, idle forward, turn the wheel hard over, and then push the throttle to the wall. Some poorly designed boats lay over so far on their beam that water pours over the gunwales. Not good.

2. Low speed control

Things you should be aware of include the following:

  • In which direction does the stern swing on an inboard when in reverse? Most only back up one way.
  • Can you change direction when powering in reverse? Even some stern-drives, when in reverse, lock into a turn and won’t alter direction until you remove the throttle.
  • These factors aren’t cause to instantly reject a boat, but you should be aware of them.

3. Hull integrity

When out on your trial, look for a wave or create one. Then drive over the wave and listen for bulkheads squeaking when you land.  After, look around for screws that might have popped loose.

4. Tracking ease

Center the wheel at idle speed so the boat travels straight, and then take your hands off the wheel. Some boats simply cannot track straight, so you must constantly correct the yawing motion. These boats will become annoying real fast.

5. Systems check

Ensure that every mechanism on the boat is operational.

  • Does the bilge pump jettison water?
  • Operate the radio and the CD changer, and make sure all speakers are functioning.
  • Check every gauge, running light and courtesy light.
  • Flush the head, and run the fresh and raw water.

6. Written documentation

Note anything not operating on paper, and insist that it be operational before closing the deal. It’s easier to get it fixed in the sales line than the service queue.

This post originally appeared on boatingmag.com.

Power boating tips 101

Boating is a rewarding hobby and sport. Some of the best times are spent on the water with your friends and family while fishing, waterskiing or just cruising. Learning to boat and get around on the water is a lot like learning to drive a car. You’re excited to have the freedom to travel, but a little worried to take over the controls. Being apprehensive when you first start driving a boat is understandable. Here are some power boating tips you can follow to make boating a little easier and safer while you improve your new skills.

Beginner power boating tips

Learning from an experienced boater can help speed up the process. However, watching other boaters that have boats similar to yours and asking questions is another option. There are also many boating education programmes offered as well.

Tips for before you get on the water

  1. If practical, you should start out learning in a small boat. They are easier to control, making even the most nervous beginner more comfortable.
  2. Choose an area with calm water and few boats will give you the chance to learn the feel of the boat without added pressure of handling choppy waves.
  3. Be aware of the weather reports and watch for unexpected adverse weather that might pop up. Being on the water during a rainstorm or heavy winds is dangerous, so don’t wait until the last minute to dock your boat.
  4. Wear a life jacket, and make sure everyone on the boat does. Nine out of 10 drownings happen when no life jacket is being worn.
  5. Basic stuff to have on your boat: U.S. Coast Guard-approved, marine-type fire extinguisher, a visual distress signal if you are on coastal waters, a horn to make sound, a throwable PFD (life ring), first aid kit, back-up plugs, anchor & line and spare keys.
  6. File a float plan. Be sure to let someone know where you’ll be boating and when you’ll be back. In the case of an emergency, this will give rescue personnel a better idea of where you were going and how long you’ve been gone, giving you a better chance of being found.

Tips when launching your boat

  1. Get your boat ready to put in the water by making sure you put the plug in the boat. Your boat should not be in the water without the plug in.
  2. Remove straps and tie-downs on trailers and engines.
  3. Load your gear into the boat while it’s out of the water. It’s easier and safer than lugging cooler boxes, bags, etc. through water or bending down from a dock.
  4. Back your boat down the slipway to get your boat in the water so your engine is in the water and the boat is not floating off the trailer. Be sure everything is working properly before you release the boat from the trailer.
  5. Run the blower to make sure there are no fuel vapors in the engine compartment.
  6. Set the kill switch to run.
  7. Start your boat with the drive mechanism in throttle so the propeller is not turning while you’re on the trailer.
  8. Unhook the boat and release the bow hooks that keep the boat on the trailer.
  9. Boat and vehicle driver now work together to gradually separate boat from the trailer. Vehicle driver slowly back the boat further down the ramp until it is floating. At that point, the boat driver can gently give the boat a little reverse throttle to slip the boat off the trailer.

This post was originally published here.

Getting a skippers licence

While many think that getting your skippers licence is just a formality, we can assure you that this is not the case. Power boating requires a level of skill and knowledge not just to receive a licence, but also to understand the many situations you may encounter while on the water. Here are some popular questions the boating community has about skippers licences and how to get one.

Is it necessary for me to have a skippers licence?It is now law that everyone taking a vessel to sea has to have a skippers licence. It is also law that everyone operating a vessel with an engine of over 15hp on inland waters has to have a skippers licence. In addition, the insurance industry will not pay out any claims where the skipper of a boat does not have his Skippers license. The penalties for operating without a licence are high and inspectors are clamping down on those operating without a licence.
Where can I obtain my skippers licence? You should attend a SAMSA approved two-day course, followed by written and practical examination. A temporary/provisional skippers licence will then be issued by the instructors, and is valid for six months. A log book is also provided with the course, as well as an affidavit form to complete your hours logged. A quick search online will provide you with SAMSA-approved instructors closest to you. Also try http://skippercourses.co.za/courses_other/.  
What will be required of me to write and pass the exam? An entry-level licence (category R) allows the holder to operate on dams, rivers, lakes, lagoons and harbours in South Africa. You will need: A copy of your ID document (must be 16 years or older) Two passport/ID photos Medical certificate Log of a minimum of 25 hours on dams or rivers. To be signed by the applicant/student.
Are there other licences that I can apply for? Yes. These vary from Category A (more than 40 nautical miles from shore) to Category E (1 nautical mile from shore). The requirements for these licences also vary, so be sure to request a requirement list from your instructor when inquiring about a course. Categories R and E are the entry levels for skippers to start their boating experience.  One can start in either, the difference being the boating hours required.
Do I have to renew my skippers licence at all?No, you will never have to renew your skippers licence. Once issued, you will have it for life.



Using your VHF radio

Many boaters never take the time to learn how to properly use one of the most important pieces of safety gear on board your boat: the VHF radio. If you need to call for help, don’t you want that call to be heard as clearly as possible? And if you’re using the VHF for communications of convenience, you certainly don’t want to step on an emergency transmission, do you? So let’s dive right into the do’s and don’ts of VHF protocol.

Know thy channel

Respect the channel designations, especially those of the “big three”:

  • Channel 16 is reserved for distress and safety calls and for contact calls to other vessels or shore stations.
  • Channel 13 is used for vessel bridge-to-bridge communications and is heavily trafficked by commercial ships for inter-ship navigation.
  • Channel 22A is used for safety broadcasts and U.S. Coast Guard communications; after hailing on 16, you’re usually asked to switch to 22A.

Because of congestion on 16, Channel 9 has been designated as an alternate contact-calling channel between pleasure vessels and to shore stations but, except in some areas, the Coast Guard doesn’t transmit safety messages on 9. You should always monitor 16 in case a nearby boat needs help and to hear Coast Guard safety messages. Ideally, it’s good to have two VHFs, one set on 9 and another tuned to 16.

Do regular radio checks, but do them on a recreational communications channel, not on 16, 9, 22 or any other restricted channel. Something the authorities find quite aggravating is when a recreational boater calls on an emergency channel requesting a “radio check.”

What channels should you use for regular conversations? Channels 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A are considered non-commercial channels, and in most areas, 68 and 72 are commonly used by the recreational-boating community. But remember that the VHF is officially for “operational” purposes.

This can be as informal as passing on a weather report, but conversations about what the dog chewed up yesterday are inappropriate. Some channels, such as 70, have restricted use, and you can’t use them for voice communications.

Whatever type of conversation you may be having, remember that no one else within a 20-mile range can talk on that channel while you’re talking. Considering the limited number of appropriate channels, an extended conversation can inconvenience a large number of other boaters. So keep your VHF communications brief and to the point.

If you’re communicating with a boat that’s close by (within a kilometer or two), you should switch over to low power. Both fixed-mount and handheld VHFs have low-power settings, which limit the range of your broadcast and thereby limit the number of other boaters you may be blocking out due to your transmission.

Remember that everyone can hear you. It’s very easy to offend a large number of people on the VHF, and there are often small children listening.

Emergency signalling

In an emergency, your broadcast needs to be more structured.

  1. Correct channel: Tune your radio to Channel 16 with the power set to high.
  2. Correct call: Begin your broadcast by stating Mayday (you’re in a life-threatening situation) or Pan-pan (you’re in a bad situation that isn’t life threatening at the moment but could become life threatening) three times over.
  3. Correct vessel information: State your vessel’s name, latitude and longitude, a brief description of your boat, and the nature of your emergency.

Speak slowly and clearly, and wait for a response from the Coast Guard. Once the Coast Guard knows the exact situation and location, be ready for some follow-up questions. You’re likely to be asked about such things as the size and type of the boat you’re on, the number and age of the people on board, and whether anyone has any medical training, if it’s applicable to the situation.

Even if you don’t get an answer, continue making the emergency broadcast with those first three vital bits of information. The authorities (or perhaps a nearby pleasure boater) may be listening, even if you can’t hear them calling back.

Usually the best way to make sure your vital info gets through with no confusion or mistakes is to ensure that you have digital selective calling (DSC) active on your radio. This requires a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number and a link to your GPS, unless you’ve got a newer VHF with a built-in GPS.

When you press the DSC “panic button” on the VHF, the radio will automatically transmit your vessel information and exact location. And since it’s digitally processed and uses narrow receiver bandwidth, it also boosts range over normal voice communications.

Think of VHF communications like the highways and byways of our nation. They’re public, everyone uses them, and everyone benefits from them. But they can become clogged with overuse and unpleasant due to discourtesy. Follow the proper VHF protocol, and everyone will be in for a better boating experience — and a safer one, too.

This post first appeared Scuttlebutt Sailing.