5 Must-Have Tips for First-Time Boaters

Whether it’s a skiff or a yacht, a day rental or your own, you’ve just bought a little slice of happiness in the shape of a boat. Life is good!

You’ve probably been imagining the fun you will have and the people you will share your voyage with. As you make your plans, consider these tips for all, but especially new, boaters.

1. Know your watercraft

Of course, you know how to operate your vessel, but pro-boaters take knowing their watercraft a few steps further. This checklist should help:

  • Train at least one passenger on how to handle your boat, including how to call for help.
  • Confirm that you have all of the safety equipment required by local, state, and federal authorities, and that it is in good working order.
  • Establish that all parts of your craft are operational, including navigational equipment, the radio, and other signaling devices.
  • Learn basic maintenance and carry a tool kit and marine-grade spare parts.
  • Check fuel supplies.
  • Examine ropes and lines for wear.
  • Get a vessel safety check. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons have certified inspectors who will perform the inspection at your boat, free of charge. You can arrange your VSC by submitting a form here.

2. Know the waters

Before heading out on the waters, make sure you have the most up-to-date nautical charts. If you’re not sure which charts you need, check out our website’s search function, where you can find the best chart by region, chart number, or chart type. You can also search by map.

Beyond simply being a map, nautical charts provide aids to navigation, illustrating the shoreline and seafloor, and showing water depths and the locations of hazards, as well as other features.

You might also look for additional resources that can help prepare you and guide your journey. For example, Light Lists offer details on additional navigational aids, such as lighted and unlighted buoys, day beacons, sound signals, radio beacons, and more. Also helpful, the U.S. Coast Pilot Books offer boaters regional guidebooks that offer details beyond a chart, including channel descriptions, anchorages, bridge and cable clearances, weather conditions, dangers, federal regulations, and more.

Finally, once you have all the charts and resources you need, be sure that you and at least one other passenger trained to read the charts and use equipment to navigate.

3. Know the weather

It’s not enough to know the weather on land; you’ll need to determine the current marine conditions and forecast. NOAA is your best source for this information. Here are a few key resources:

4. Prepare for possibilities

Planning a successful boat trip includes being ready for the best and preparing for the worst. Use this checklist to make sure you are not caught surprised:

Gear & Supplies

  • Carry protective equipment to use against the elements (sun protection, rain gear, insulation against cold, etc.).
  • Provide your vessel with life vests and make certain that all on board are using them appropriately.
  • Supply your vessel with emergency rafts to accommodate all on board and train your passengers in how to use them.
  • Stow ample provisions food and water to sustain you and your passengers for the trip and more in case of an emergency.
  • Keep phones, identification and other valuables secure and protected from the elements.
  • Be sure you do not overload your boat.


  • If using a non-motorized boat (canoe, kayak, sailboat), practice capsizing and righting your vessel.
  • Maintain a boating journal.
  • Prepare a float plan and leave it with a reliable person who will contact rescue agencies if you do not report in when scheduled. Download the official float plan of the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
  • Go over the plan with your contact person prior to your voyage to be certain they understand what to do. Minutes count in an emergency.
  • Check in with your contact person at designated times.

5. Be courteous and careful

Take some time before your trip to make things go smoothly. Here are a few last items to check off:

  • Practice steering and backing with your trailer before the day of your trip.
  • Load your boat before you get to the ramp.
  • Get your boat in and out of the water quickly, so you don’t back up traffic.
  • Take it slow and easy when docking, so you don’t damage your boat or someone else’s.

And finally, one last tip for you first-time boaters: Sail into the wind on your way out, so you will have the wind at your back on the way home. Welcome to the fun and adventure of boating. We hope these tips keep you prepared and safe, so you can truly enjoy the journey!





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