Tips for Snowbird Boaters Navigating Unfamiliar Waters
Research the area. When boating in new venues, it is important to do your homework first. “Take the time to review the chart of those waters and mark any areas that you will need to avoid when traveling to and from your destination,” said Capt. Wendy Sears of Sea Tow Eastern Connecticut. “Be sure to add the waypoints and routes to your GPS if you have one.”
If possible, talk with folks who are familiar with a new navigation area to gain important local knowledge. “The local Sea Tow Captains will be a wealth of knowledge, depending on what you are looking to do,” Capt. Sears said. “Whether you intend to anchor overnight or find a slip, they can tell you the best places to go and what to be wary of along the way.”
Go Slow if in Doubt. The throttle works both ways and low speed is a safer speed when you don’t know exactly where you are going. “If there is ever a level of uncertainty about where you are going, slow down or just stop,” explains Capt. Ethan Maass of Sea Tow South Shore, Massachusetts, near Boston. “Take a few minutes to look around and correlate with your chartplotter or paper chart.”
Sea Tow Captains know to take it slow when in difficult to navigate or shallow areas. They mitigate risks by slowing down and paying close attention to their boat’s electronics. Recreational boaters don’t have to take those risks—they can simply stop. “You can’t hit anything if you are not moving,” Capt. Maass said.
Use Extra Caution at Night. While reducing your speed is prudent during the day, it’s crucial at night. Even a low-speed collision with another vessel or a stationary object can be devastating. “Losing situational awareness is a major danger, especially a night,” said Capt. Maass. “If you are a few feet off course it can be a disaster. Questioning what you are getting yourself into is always safer.”
Eliminate Distractions. When boating in unfamiliar waters, a captain may want to refrain from conversation and turn down the music. It also helps to enlist the passengers to scan the water for obstructions. “There are no do-overs when a marine accident occurs, so it’s always better to take the safer course of action,” Capt. Sears said. “Boaters can become disoriented, even in the best of boating conditions.”
Use Your Compass. Make sure your paper charts are up to date for the area you are heading into. If the GPS should go out, you can use the paper charts and the boat’s compass to guide you.
Take Advantage of Sea Tow’s Free Automated Radio Check system. In unfamiliar waters, it’s important to ensure that your VHF radio is working properly in case you need to hail a marina or bridge tender (a frequent occurrence on the ICW!). Sea Tow’s free Automated Radio Check Service will let you make the check quickly and easily, while helping to reduce the volume of non-urgent communications traffic on VHF channel 16. To find the right channel to make an Automated Radio Check in a boating area that’s new to you, click here.