9 Tips to Avoid Common Boating Mistakes

Over 35 years spent interviewing survivors of boating incidents, these pointers stand out as simple, preventive measures for common mishaps on the water.

Gifts for the Offshore Fisherman

Over the past 35 years I’ve interviewed over 75 survivors of boating mishaps for my new book Extreme Survival: Lessons From Those Who Have Triumphed Against All Odds. While my primary goal was to tell their harrowing stories and explain the mindsets and techniques they used to survive harrowing situations, I also began to see common boating mistakes that contributed to the accidents they were involved in.  Here is a short summary: 

Don’t Push Through the Rough Stuff

Many accidents occur because the boater tries to stick to a schedule, and consequently will attempt to “push through rough weather”.  There is an old saying–and it’s a good one–that a calendar has no place on a boat. 

Know When to Fold ‘Em

One of the chapters in my book is titled “Blinded By The Goal”, and I’ve seen this error in judgment in just about every activity that has a small degree of risk, from boating to mountain climbing.  An example for mountain climbing is the climber is approaching the summit (the goal) but is feeling light-headed and exhausted, or maybe a storm is approaching. Being so close to your goal, they think “I’ve come this far, I can’t turn back now.” Or in my case, I’ve been on the water in a small boat searching for big stripers (my goal) and when I finally locate them I’m so fixed on the fishing I ignore a dark, ominous thunderhead moving my way.  Both scenarios can lead to disaster. 

If Uncomfortable, Speak Up

Putting all your trust in “experts” is never a good thing.  If you feel uncomfortable in a situation speak up.  There are some boat captains who have become complacent, and tend to think they can handle most any situation.  Or, just as dangerous, they are not quite the experts they think they are.  In Extreme Survival, I include a story of a fisherman who hired a guide for bone fishing, and he assumed the guide was well prepared.  After a day of fishing, while heading back from the fishing grounds the boat ran out of gas.  The wind picked up and that’s when the problems started compounding.  The boat sank and the men were in a life and death situation, with no emergency equipment on board. 

Low Light, Low Speed

Night time boating is fraught with danger.  Be sure to take every safety precaution seriously, with the most important one being to keep your speed low. 

common boating mistakes
Low light before and after dark calls for low speeds, for the safety of yourself and others. (Photo by Matt Rissell)

Go With Your Gut

Listen to your intuition.  Many of the people I’ve interviewed had a bad feeling sending out warning vibes.  Because they couldn’t pinpoint why they had the gut feeling they ignored it.  Don’t make that mistake. I’m convinced intuition is caused by subconscious clues you can’t yet articulate or even decipher.  The people I interviewed often said that after the accident the reasons for their feeling of unease became clear.  

Make a Gear Check List

For long outings, go through a check list to make sure you have brought the right gear.  I researched a story where an experienced and safety conscious captain was making a trip to Bermuda when the windows of his sailboat were blown out by an exceptionally large wave in a storm.  The incoming water capsized the boat.  On every other prior voyage this captain had made he always had storm shutters onboard the boat for this very situation.  But on this trip they were back in his garage.  He simply forgot them. 

Consider All Variables

Do not project past outcomes to current situations.  Our minds automatically size up a situation compared to something similar in our pasts.  We then project the prior outcome into the new situation, and determine that if we follow a similar course of action everything will be fine.  But every situation is different, and we must force ourselves to look at each important event on its own merits.  There could be a variable that might dictate success or failure. 

Stop and Think

Adrenaline can be the enemy.  When adrenaline kicks in, it often prompts us to take quick action.  Fight that urge for just a short period, and instead pause.  Often times the simple act of pausing gives us time to think of several options, rather than leaping into action.

Play It Safe

Never try to “get around a storm”.  That’s what the captain of the tall ship Bounty tried to do and he and a fellow crewmember lost their lives.  The storm they tried to outmaneuver was Hurricane Sandy, and while it was not one of the most powerful hurricanes of the past century, it was certainly the largest.  There was no getting around it. 

Michael Tougias is the author and co-author of 30 books for adults and 8 for young adults and middle readers.  His two latest books are Extreme Survival and Abandon Ship! The True WWII Story About the Sinking of the Laconia. Interviews with survivors and descriptions of all his books can be found at www.michaeltougias.com.

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