Responsible Dad, Responsible Boating

When I was younger, my primary bonding experiences with my dad occurred aboard our family boat, Donna. He taught me how to sail, how to fish, and how to find meaning in life during the long summer weekends we would take her out on the water. Unfortunately, as happens to all vessels, Donnagot old and broken-down – and as happens to all fathers, Dad got old and sick – and my journeys to the lake ceased.

After a few years of college and young adulthood, after I finally found a steady job, a steady marriage, and a steady home life, I thought back on those summers on the water and started yearning for a boat of my own. Soon enough, my son would be old enough to start learning about sailing and fishing and meaning, and I wanted to provide him with the same positive experiences I had.

However, owning a boat today is not the same as owning a boat was during my childhood. We live in the city without a suitable storage space, and I know much less about maintenance than my father did. Unless I wanted to throw our family finances into turmoil for my somewhat selfish desire for a boat, I needed to be careful about how I bought and maintained Donna 2. Plus, often during my summers I observed fellow boaters ruining the lake for others, and I didn’t want my son to learn similar habits.

That’s why I came up with this responsible boat ownership guide: to help me stay accountable to my family, the environment, and my boat.

Know the Costs

Kids aren’t cheap, and neither are boats. Therefore, dads who want both must develop a budget to keep finances in check. Typically, expenses associated with boating can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Purchase price, including fees and taxes
  • Insurance
  • Dockage
  • Maintenance
  • Fuel

Fortunately, there are ways to save in all of these categories. Boats lose value fast, so buying a used boat typically provides more value for your dollar. On eBay, boats for sale are much less expensive than new boats found on lots and much more reliable than used boats on Craigslist and other sites.

You could store your boat in the water, using something called lifts for boats! I just heard about it from a fellow boat owner who has plans to buy it. I’ll just see how things turn out for him, and decide on if I want it for myself too! Further, if you can store your boat in your garage or driveway, you can save on marina fees – but that requires you to purchase a trailer and towing truck, too (just like me). With a maintenance manual and a few tools, you can service your own vessel, and with the right style of boat, fuel shouldn’t be a primary concern. No matter what, your boat will cost you, but hopefully your budget keeps the costs low.

Travel Correctly

There are right and wrong ways to use your boat. Regardless of whether you are a lone sailor or you have your whole family aboard, safety should be your primary concern. You should always have enough lifejackets for everyone on board, and you must invest in child-sized floatation devices for your little ones. Further, you should appoint a skipper, who knows how to handle the vessel and can aid you in emergencies.

Not all boats are built for all conditions, and perhaps the best way to keep everyone safe is to avoid navigating into waters your vessel isn’t prepared for. You should maintain appropriate speeds, weights, distances from shore, and more to avoid unnecessary accidents.

Respect Others Always

No boat is more important than another – save, perhaps, the Coast Guard and other authority figures – so you shouldn’t be disrespectful to fellow boaters on the water. Your kids should see you acting considerately toward those around you, even when you are tired or when boaters are misbehaving. There is a loose etiquette most boaters appreciate, which includes:

  • Providing ample space when passing slower vessels to avoid upsetting them with wake
  • Anchoring at slow speeds and distant from other vessels
  • Using oars or wind power when in quiet, dark, or otherwise still areas
  • Assisting others with docking or undocking when dockmasters are absent

In general, if you treat other boaters how you prefer to be treated, waterways will become better places.

Observe Your Impact

The results are in: Boating isn’t especially good for the environment. Whether it is toxic chemicals leaking into the waterways or excessive wake eroding the shorelines, boating definitely has an effect on our beloved natural spaces.

Therefore, when you are boating, you must be aware of your impact and negate it as much as possible. It should be obvious that you should avoid steering close to areas of historical or natural significance, such as archaeological sites or nesting areas. When possible, you should leave waterways better than how you found them.