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I just got my first boat, help me!

well... I hope that you were not told that operating a boat is like a car 'cause if that's what you think you're in for a wild ride ! Sure... turn the wheel to the right, the boat will go right. Press on the gas, it will go faster. Put it in Reverse, it will go back ward. That's about it.

At the risk of being called an "old salt", which I'm not, you need to realize that you must respect the ocean, as well as the bay or any body of water. You can't just stop your boat, put it in Park and wait for help out there as things are likely to get worst if you don't know what you're doing.

Here are the first 10 things you should do if you just got that shinny new boat you've been dreaming about for years. And if the boat isn't that new and that shinny, you still need to read the following...

1)- Take a boating course !

You took some driving classes before hoping behind the wheel of your car, right ? so what makes you think you don't need boating classes to drive a boat ? While the law (in Florida) doesn't require classes and in some cases only requires a 5 minutes online course, a boating course will make your boating much more enjoyable and less stressful for you and your passengers.

There are a number of groups you can contact, like the US Power Squadron, Coast Guard Auxiliary, etc..

2)- Buy Chapman's Piloting, read it and when you're done... read it again.

It's the bible of any self respecting boater, covering everything from rules to navigation, weather, etc... You can find it at any marine store or order it online.

3)- Get familiar with your boat.

Once again, a boat is not a car... if something happens to your car, it's not going sink but your boat may just do that so it's critical that you spend a few hours getting to know your boat from bumper to bumper... hmmm. bow to stern. You must be familiar with all the systems especially plumbing and electrical. Start by locating every thru hull, seacock and strainers so you know were water could come in case of an emergency. Know where all your pumps are and what they do. Spend some time looking at your electrical panel to understand what does what. Find your battery and battery switches, know how they operate, which battery powers what.

4)- Get help !

Unless your boat is really small, you may want to hire a pro to show you how to safely operate it. Sure it will cost you a few dollars but will probably save you from making expensive mistakes. A captain will show you how to dock, how to anchor, what to do in case of an emergency, etc...

5)- Dont' assume that because your boat is new, it's ready to go.

OK, so you got this new boat fresh out of the showroom and the dealer threw in the Deluxe Coast Guard package for free, a three thousand cents value. Guess what, you're not ready to go out just yet.

Chances are the anchor, lines, fenders are too small, too short, too little...so you may need to buy more stuff. Welcome to boating ! Go to your favorite marine store (down the street or down big Al's information superhighway) and look at some of the anchor and line selection charts to get an idea of what you need.

Here are a few things you need in addition to the minimum required by state and federal law; the list is not complete but will be a good start,

- Extra fire extinguishers, and ideally a fixed automatic system in the engine compartment..
- Gas Vapor Detector in gas powered boats.
- TWO carbon monoxide detectors in the cabin.
- Marine charts for the waters you will cruising.
- Flashlight.
- Toolkit and simple spare parts.
- Second anchor and rode (chain and line).
- Towing service subscription.

6)- get a survey

Normally you get a boated surveyed before you buy it to make sure that all is well and that you're not going to have any significant issues with the boat. Even new boats can have some issue and getting them solved before closing usually means fewer warranty hassles in the first few months.

But lets assume that you've just bought your first used boat and you're not familiar with its systems. Spending a few hundred dollars on a survey might be a good investment as it may turn up some safety isues that may need to be repaired now. A marine surveyor will spend time on the boat, with you, and go thru every system, every compartment making a list of what needs to be addressed. If the boat can be hauled out, he will also inspect the hull,props, etc.. There are a number of things that are easy for a novice to overlook but which can have disastrous consequences. Even if it's too late and you have already purchased the boat, things like defective fuel lines, non marine electrical devices, can litteraly kill you and your family; a survey can reveal these before something happens.