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Old 08-06-2005, 12:35   #1
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10 Dumb Mistakes

10 Dumb Boating Mistakes You Don't Want to Make ~ By Chris Caswell

From “Powerboating” Magazine:,00.html

It could have been a scene from "Dumb and Dumber." The husband, an experienced skipper, told his wife to entertain their guests aboard their 35-footer while he released the dock lines for a harbor cruise. He'd handled the lines many times by himself, and he noted that there was no wind to make it difficult. From the dock, he tossed the bow line aboard and walked aft to the stern line, which also went onto the boat. What he hadn't noticed was the strong current sweeping under the dock and pushing the boat away from it. The moment the stern line was released, the boat was too far away for the skipper to get back aboard.

"Honey," he called, now a little worried. "Toss me a line." That tone must have rattled her, because she picked up a spare line and threw it, unattached, to where he stood stranded on the dock.

Don't be surprised by this incident. The truth is, something like it happens every weekend in some marina across the country. Is it the worst kind of mistake a boater can make? That's tough to say. Trying to fathom the depth of boating dumb isn't a task for wimps, mostly because no one goes unscathed. All skippers screw up, but some mistakes are worse than others. Here's a look at 10 that rank high on my list. Many of us have made the same mistakes, and a few of us, ahem, have made them more than once.

1. The Dreaded Drain Plug. No, a drain plug doesn't fall out or unscrew itself; sometimes, you just forget to put it in. Whether you're maneuvering a trailerable boat down a launch ramp or sliding an inflatable dinghy over the stern of your cruiser, it needs a drain plug. The penalty for overlooking this simple chore can be anything from soaked pants to a sunken boat.

2. Cast Off…Everything. One former boating magazine executive (I've been sworn to secrecy) backed his yacht out of the slip after casting off everything except for the shore power cord. As several tons of yacht tugged on the cord, it stretched a bit until it finally tore out of the socket in a brilliant fireworks display and a cloud of smoke. Forgetting to unplug the shore power cord was a particularly spectacular oversight on the part of this skipper, but forgetting to untie a dock line can be just as stupid, especially if you rip the cleat out of the dock or the boat.

3. Don't Be Fuelish. When the know-it-all skipper grabbed the fuel hose away from the teenager manning the fuel dock, the kid didn't see any reason to tell the jerk that he was pumping oily diesel fuel directly into his water tank. On too many boats, the fuel and water fills look alike. Of course, there is that little label that says "Fuel" or "Water" but, hey, who really looks? Believe me, you will after you've spent a small fortune having your water tank steam-cleaned to get that dreadful taste out of the drinking water. Or, alternatively, after you've had the engine rebuilt because you filled the fuel tank with water. One amusing variation of this dumb boating mistake is the skipper of the sportfishing boat who pumps gas into the rod holder.

4. The Classic Prop Knot. This seamanship error is depressingly similar to mistake number two, but it occurs when your crew doesn't tidy up all the dock lines immediately. Murphy's Law states that the dock line that falls into the water will be exactly 10 feet longer than necessary to reach the propeller. The result is that 10 feet of thick and stretchy nylon will wrap tightly around at least one prop. What happens next isn't pretty. If it was a stern line, it could yank the entire prop and shaft out of the hull, leaving a solid stream of water shooting into the boat. If it was a bow line, the bowthruster could suck it up faster than an Italian can inhale spaghetti. A wrapped bow line won't keep the boat from moving the way a knot at the stern could, but it's 10 times harder to get free.

5. No Spark. Here's more proof that novices are not the only ones who make dumb mistakes. Three boat testers from another magazine just couldn't get the sportboat engines to crank. These were knowledgeable guys, so they tinkered with the battery switches, pulled the cables off the batteries and cleaned them, checked the engine electrics and then scratched their heads. That's when one guy noticed that the kill switch lanyard, designed to protect fools from themselves, was dangling from the belt of one tester. Fortunately, they'd only wasted about three hours.

6. The Leap of Faith. It was going to be a tough docking situation, with wind and current and surrounding boats complicating things. The skipper told his mate to jump ashore as soon as possible to get a line on a cleat. She did exactly as she was told, launching herself like a gazelle when the boat was about eight feet from the dock. The problem was that she was holding five feet of dock line tightly in her hand. When she reached the end of the line (literally), she stopped cartoon-like in midair and dropped straight into the water, which complicated things even more.

7. Captain Crunch. Most boaters would agree that this mistake is seriously dumb. When approaching a dock, most of us know to keep our hands and feet out of the way. Even if you're in a 20-foot runabout, putting your hands out to fend off the dock is just asking for trouble. Imagine for a moment what happens if you get your little pinky between a two-ton boat and an immovable dock: It isn't pretty. Fenders and rubrails are designed to handle the bumps from docking, not fingers or toes or ankles. Always remember to tell your guests to keep their hands in their pockets.

8. Let Go the Anchor. It's amazing how fast the anchor rode can run out, whether the water is simply too deep or your boat is backing up too quickly. The very end of a line is called the bitter end, and you'll quickly understand that name if you forget to secure it to your boat. Many harbors have more anchors on the bottom than a marine hardware store, and all because many skippers forgot to put knots in the end of their lines. Learn from the mistakes of others: Don't donate your anchor to King Neptune.

9. How High I Am. Always know the range of the tide wherever you cruise. More than one skipper has tied alongside a pier and gone ashore for a leisurely dinner, only to return to find his boat dangling sideways from the dock lines after the tide went out. The farther north you venture, the more range between high and low tides. Plan ahead for tidal changes, or you'll literally find yourself hanging around.

10. How Low Can I Go? When you anchor in an unfamiliar harbor, check the depthsounder, check the chart and remember the tides. More than a few skippers have been awakened in the wee hours when they fell from the bunk as the boat, solidly aground at low tide, tipped far over on one side. It's a good way to bend a propeller, and it's pretty embarrassing at sunrise when everyone sees your predicament.

Those are all the dumb mistakes I have room for here, but believe me, there are many more stories to be told, including the one about the skipper who didn't know his new boat had a holding tank. He just kept flushing and pumping and flushing and pumping until something deep in the bilge went kaboom. There's also the story about the fisherman who tossed his steel knife up on the dash next to the compass—the magnetic compass—as he headed home through the fog.

I'll save those other mistakes for another time. But if you have a story about one of your own mishaps that you'd like to share, log on to and tell us about it. Chances are we've felt your pain. And in the end, confession is good for the soul.
Gord May
"If you didn't have the time or money to do it right in the first place, when will you get the time/$ to fix it?"

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Old 08-06-2005, 14:33   #2
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Response to #9

Gotta add this little story,

I worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska one summer. During one of our offloads of fish, a private motor yacht about 40' long pulled into the fuel dock and tied up to it. Now in Alaska, this is not something anybody does, the tides are 30+ feet and on an outgoing tide bad things happen. Well, the husband left the boat with his wife on board to arrange to get fuel. By the time he got back ( about 15 minutes) his boat was no longer in the water but over it. His wife got off the boat and both of them just stared at the boat hanging there 2-3 feet above the water. The longer they waited the farther out of the water it got. Most of us fisherman were on our own boats in the channel watching this. After about 1/2 hour, the bow chock and cleat left the boat and she swung down and hit the water which in turn snapped the stern line which then let the boat travel out the channel with the tide. I was laughing my ass off at this point !! The couple did get a lift on a dingy out to their craft and I never saw them again. Wish I had a digital movie camera that day!

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