hopeful boater

Are you a boater that hopes for the best, or a knowledge boater prepared for the unexpected?

If you don’t know the systems on your boat; if you aren’t sure of the condition of your systems; if you rely on the reliability built in by your boat manufacture then restrict your boating to nice weather and be sure there is a tow boat near by. Eventually you are gonna fail.

You are a “Hope Boater”. Nothing wrong with that, you are in good company, most boaters are Hope Boaters; just don’t go too far away from the dock.

On the other hand if you know your boat, have a plan for emergencies and a set of contingencies for every scenario you can think of, then you are a “Know Boater”. Others look up to you as master of the boat and master of the sea. You can go anywhere, have more adventure with less risk.

Semper Fortis – Always Strong – Navy slogan

Semper Paratus – Always Ready – US Coast Guard slogan



You Choose Hoping or Knowing

Part of boating is about experiences and the retelling of those experiences. There are two kinds of harrowing boat stories. One type is where the boater is thrust into an unusual circumstance beyond their control but the captain and the boat survived with only minor problems. Usually as the result of careful planning and maintenance. The other kind of story is either less dramatic or more disastrous. Which one will you be telling?

Simple Trip or Harrowing Event

Like the time I was close to disaster in wind, waves and lightning. We were in my boat, 25 miles away from port with my family and friends, coming back from watching the fireworks at Harborfest on Lake Ontario. It was pitch dark with high winds and a thunder storm closing in on us. Meanwhile we were racing home in 5-7 foot waves and they were increasing. There was water everywhere due to the following seas. Each time we went down into a wave, water sprayed over the bow well above the gunnels and all over everything.

All of a Sudden The Engine Sputters and Quit

I’ve been in 10 -15 foot rollers on that lake before and I didn’t want to experience them again without an engine. I figured the engine problem was either the spray entered the engine compartment and the electronics got wet or somehow water got into the fuel. I checked the engine compartment, nothing unusual so I immediately went for the fuel / water separator. I had a filter wrench attached to the separator just for these occasions. I removed the filter and poured it overboard (sorry I had to). Put the filter back on, primed the engine with a spray can of starting fluid. After a few tries the engine started and the boat got us back to port. Thanks to God and knowledge and preparation.

The other kind of story would be like the one I would have told if I couldn’t get the engine started. We would have been adrift in the pitch dark, with high winds, rain, thunder, lightning and 10 footers tossing us around like a volley ball on the last set.

What Do You Need to be Prepared?

What if I didn’t have:

  • The filter wrench
  • Starting fluid
  • Redundant batteries
  • Knowledge of engines
  • A simple flashlight

What if the huge rollers came sooner?

The point is that 1,000,000 things can go wrong in life especially on the water. Your boat as configured by the manufacturer is not equipped to handle every situation without additional thought and action.

You have to analyze, configure, plan and provision your boat to cover every scenario you can think of. And you have to have stuff.

You need things like:

  • Supplies
  • Tools
  • Spare parts
  • Emergency stuff
  • Miscellaneous stuff
  • Equipment
  • Redundancy
  • Abandon ship bag and/or life raft

I’ve been accumulating lists of things needed on the boat for several years. I call it the “Captains Checklist” or “On Board Minimum”.

You can download a copy here for free: Captains’s Checklist.

If you have a harrowing experience, why not share it with the rest of us in the comments below? We’d all like to hear it and learn from it.

Also, Like us on Facebook, The Reliable Boat 2.0, so you can keep in touch.

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Douglas Low

Systems Engineer at The Reliable Boat
Douglas A. Low is a systems engineer with over 25 years experience designing military systems for the US Navy. He developed a method for bringing “Navy Reliability” to smaller vessels. It's as much a mindset as it is a method. The tips, techniques and methods are documented in his soon to be published book, “The Reliable Boat”. Sign up at TheReliableBoat.com to get loads of free information and stay informed on the book's release.

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One Comment

  1. My wife and I try to push ourselves into the extremes we can get on the Chesapeake Bay, which admittedly is not much, but the occasional Summer squalls and 40+kt. wind Fall days. Still we have several times seen the bay empty, as people have stayed at the dock. Having completely rebuilt our old P40, I know our boat, the many upgrades I have made, and what can go wrong, but preparedness, quality work, well made and common sense systems, have never gotten us in trouble. I am the boring guy, who never has “juicy and horrible stories” to tell, – only great sails to report. I just sit and listen to others. I don’t chime in with advice. They have chosen how to sail, and have all owned boats “for a lifetime more than us”, so who am I? Just a happy sailor, sailing on our terms!

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