Photo by Jo Ann Snover/

8 rookie boating mistakes to avoid this summer

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Whether you’re cruising around the lake or using your boat for some serious travel, here are some common mistakes you might want to avoid. You’ll save your craft and your reputation as a boater.

1. Being underprepared for emergencies

If you’re going out, make sure you let someone know where you’re planning to be (this is called a float plan) so if something happens, rescue will be quick. Ensure you and your passengers know what to do if someone falls in the water, and check your communication equipment before you leave the dock. Finally—and do we even need to say this?—make sure every passenger is wearing a life jacket at all times.

2. Drinking and boating

Operating a boat while over a blood alcohol concentration of 80 mg is a criminal offence—and in some provinces, the maximum penalty is exactly the same as if you’d been caught drinking and driving. You can drink on your boat, but it needs to have permanent cooking facilities, permanent places to sleep, and it has to be secured alongside a dock. Sorry, but cracking open a beer on your dingy while you’re fishing just ain’t legal.

3. Forgetting to put in the boat drain plug

You’d better believe this happens—and not always to rookies. Make sure you double check (and then check again) to ensure those plugs are in—otherwise, prepare for a boat full of water and some very surprised passengers.

4. Running aground

Again, this isn’t just a rookie mistake—it’s something that happens if you haven’t spent enough time with the nautical charts for the lake you’re on. Buoys and markers can only do so much! Make sure you have good, up-to-date intel about shallows and hazards wherever you’re boating. If you need to get around a marker, slow down—hitting a hidden rock at top speed is never a good experience.

5. Wrapping fishing line around the motor

You may think that a line-wrapped propeller is OK as long as it still spins, but that’s not the case. Fishing line can cut into the seal around the prop, letting water in and oil out. That’s a big problem. If you notice a tangle, kill the motor and take care of the snarl immediately. (You do have a knife or a pair of scissors in your tackle box, right?)

6. Not having enough line for your anchor

Nothing’s more frustrating than thinking you’ve anchored right over the perfect fishing spot only to realize you’re steadily floating away from it. The amount of line you’ll need to anchor (which is known as the scope) is about five to seven times the depth of the water in calm weather, plus the amount needed to get to where the rope is tied to the boat. If the water is choppy, your scope should be about 10 times the depth of the water.

7. Spilling fuel

Spilling fuel is bad for the water, it’s bad for the fish, and it’s bad for your wallet. Make sure you’ve got appropriate funnels or collars, watch your bilge water (there are absorbent bilge socks that help skim off gunky oil) and—most importantly—pay attention while you’re fuelling. And if you spill? The Canadian Coast Guard operates 24-hour hotlines you can call to report marine pollution incidents.

8. Slamming the dock

While weather and wind conditions can make docking challenging, there are some tactics you can use to avoid ramming. First of all, slow down. Never approach the dock faster than you’re willing to hit it—but don’t slow down too much, or you’ll fall short of your target (it’s a delicate balancing act). Short bursts of power will allow you to maneuver without building up too much momentum. Really, it’s a skill that will come with practice—so don’t be afraid to approach the dock a couple of times to get your positioning just right.

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