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Team Ripl
Team Ripl

For new boaters, the first few months of ownership can be a challenge; after all, there is a whole new skill set to learn. Many dealers offer new boaters assistance with learning the ropes so don’t be shy about asking for help. The same goes if you know an experienced boater. Invite them to join you on your first few outings and it will fast-track your learning curve. No one is born knowing how to operate a boat so it’s important to practice various tasks without the pressure of a crowd watching you.

“Docking the boat is so intimidating! How do I gain confidence?”


Probably the single scariest moment for a new boater is approaching a dock for the first time. The key things to remember are to stay calm, go slowly and resist the urge to make abrupt corrections. Most bad dockings are made worse by the sudden application of power, which can cause damage or even injury. Small, gentle corrections of the wheel and throttle usually work best.

Use lots of fenders (rookies call them bumpers) and have dock lines ready before approaching the dock. Before starting your approach, put the boat in neutral and see which way the wind and current are taking you. Whenever possible use them to your advantage. Learning how to dock is mostly practice, practice, practice. Find slips or docks that don’t have other boats around and learn how your boat responds in various conditions.

Needless to say if your boat is offered with a joystick option, take it. It will be worth every penny.       

“I’ve never launched my boat from a trailer—how do I do it with everyone watching?”


Here’s another tension-laden scenario: you are new to boating and head to the ramp on a busy Saturday to launch your boat. Everyone is watching your every move and if you have some difficulty, you fear people will get angry at you for holding them up.

First, don’t worry; most boaters are sympathetic to newcomers and will likely want to help. They only hate dawdlers.

But before getting yourself into this situation, spend an hour or two practicing backing up your boat trailer in an empty parking lot until it becomes second nature. You’ll notice small corrections work best. Then, head to the ramp on a slow day for the first few times and you should quickly get the hang of it.

Have a checklist so you don’t forget important steps like forgetting to put the drain plug in. And always organize and prep your boat in the parking lot before starting the launch procedure.

“What if I’m out on the water and conditions get rough?”


If you boat long enough, eventually you’ll be caught in a fast-moving squall when the wind picks up abruptly and the pond-like conditions suddenly look like an episode of  “The Deadliest Catch.” Should this happen, first make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket. If anyone is sitting up front, move them to the middle or stern of the boat.

Then put the boat in gear and increase the speed just a little until you have good control. In really rough seas when driving a small boat, you probably won’t be able to put the boat on plane. Larger boats can probably run at the slowest planing speed.

The safest way to take waves is to head into them at an angle of about 30-45 degrees. Don’t go too fast or your boat will start slamming against the face of the waves and go airborne over the top. Go just fast enough to maintain steerage. Don’t worry if this direction temporarily takes you away from your destination. If you have to head down seas, pick a wave and pin your bow against the backside of it and use the throttle to maintain your relative position. The best strategy is to try to avoid getting yourself into this situation by keeping a close watch on the weather throughout the day.


Learning how to boat in new situations and conditions takes time and practice—no one knows what to do inherently. Enlist the help of experts and get the whole family involved in the learning process and in no time, you’ll be the one helping others!


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