A checklist for all the new (and not so new) boaters out there, to help look the part and keep the staring bystanders at bay.

With boat sales surging to all-time highs in the U.S. this year, it follows that we may have more than a few new eyeballs reading Power & Motoryacht. As a naval architect and an experienced boatman who is two weeks into my summer cruise as I write this, I can spot the newbies a nautical mile away. Don’t want to look like the new guy? I offer these signs, with apologies to comedian Bill Engvall, that you look like a goofball on the water from the perspective of a seasoned boat guy (me). Think you’re an old salt? Don’t turn the page. You still may be missing a grain or two in your shaker.

Fenders flying: I established in a previous Inside Angle story that the puffy things between your boat and the dock are never to be referred to as “bumpers.” (If your boat has bumpers you have an Amphicar.) Bring the damn fenders in, alright? Nothing screams I’M A NOVICE on the water like four fenders flailing about on a boat that’s more than 100 feet from a dock.

Raked antennae: Well, almost nothing. Look, I get it. If you have an express cruiser with a radar arch you might be tempted to angle your VHF antenna to match the rake of the arch. Unless you’re approaching a low bridge, don’t do it. You see, VHF radio antennae are vertically polarized, meaning they transmit (and receive) mostly perpendicular to the length of the antenna. Are you tilting your antenna because you think it looks cool? Well, you’re transmitting to the fish and to the flag on the moon. Neither can respond to your mayday call. Point those sticks straight up, skipper.

Wrong running angle: Boats go fast because they have the power to get on plane and the hull shape to allow it. Planing hulls generate lift using an angle of attack relative to the water. If your bow is pointed so high that you’re digging a big hole, your hull’s angle of attack is too great. If your bow is forced down, you likely have too much hull in the water, which adds drag. Either way, your boat is not going as fast or as efficiently as it was designed to run. This makes you look like a goof to everyone passing you. Work the trim tabs and/or drives at a fixed throttle setting and find the boat’s fastest speed between bow up and bow down. That’s almost surely your proper running angle in a normal sea state.

Lights that aren’t red, green or indirect: At the dock, the “blue light specials” are merely in bad taste, but they’re downright illegal when you’re underway. Guy on the Silverton SideWalk, that means you. Red, green and white running lights are the only lumens to display underway. Any other lights except indirect deck lights, etc. make you look like the new guy, especially to the cops.

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Crew headsets on a 32-footer: Nobody likes a screaming skipper, so the concept of headsets for a husband and wife can be appealing. But if you’re only going to be 20 feet away from said spouse, keep the headsets plugged into the gaming console at home. One, you should have basic hand signals for anchoring, etc. Two, it makes you look like a dork on a boat this size. Save them for your 90-footer.

American flag issues: If you take just one thing from this, display the U.S. flag at the transom and take it down by sunset. Don’t fly Old Glory at the bow—that’s just wrong. On a sportfishing boat, fly the ensign from a halyard rigged on the tower or superstructure aft. And one U.S. flag per boat please—you don’t need to tape 16 little stars & stripes to your bow rail stanchions. This makes you look very patriotic, but also very goofy.

Domestic arguments: I mentioned I’m writing this while in the middle of my family’s summer cruise. On the first night, we were tied up near another transient yacht whose owners availed themselves of the opportunity to undertake a three-hour, knock-down, drag-out, marriage-ending verbal battle until 2 a.m. Sound travels on water, folks. Thanks for the wide-ranging overview of your personal finances and sexual preferences. My 12-year-old son particularly enjoyed every detail. Here’s your sign.

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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