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How to Drive a Boat: Here’s All You Need to Know

John Sampson

Are you closing the deal on a new boat? Boating is a thrilling experience for the family. Getting out onto the water at the local lake for a cruise or going deep sea fishing offshore is a great way to enjoy nature and the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors.

If you’re a newbie boat owner, you’re probably wondering how to drive a boat and how the experience differs from driving a car. The reality is that learning to drive a boat is a simple transition from driving a vehicle, and most people adapt easily.

However, while you might get the hang of driving a boat in a matter of minutes or hours, it takes time on the water to build experience. The more experience you have, the better your confidence in handling the vessel. The more confident you are behind the captain’s console, the safer the experience on the water for your passengers.

This brief guide to how to drive a boat unpacks everything you need to know about operating a boat on inland water bodies and offshore.

Is There a Minimum Age for Driving a Boat?

Before we start, let’s get the legal stuff out of the way. You’ll find that minimum age limits for driving boats vary from state to state.

For instance, New York requires uncertified individuals piloting boats to be at least 18-years old. However, the minimum age is 12 in Arizona and 16 in Texas. 12 US states, including Florida, North and South Carolina, don’t have any minimum age limit for boat drivers.

There is no minimum age restriction for operating non-powered boats or vessels in any state other than New Mexico, California, Utah, and Oklahoma. 22 US states, including Hawaii, District of Columbia, and Nevada, require you to show valid documentation proof for completion of a boater education course.

However, some states don’t require any documentation for operating the vessel, including states like American Samoa, District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Puerto Rico.

Safety Tips for Driving Your Boat

After you get over the licensing issues, safety is the next thing you need to think of before getting out on the water.

While driving a boat and a car are very similar experiences, there is much more going on when you’re out on the river or the sea. Sure, there’s no traffic to contend with, but other hazards and components of the dynamic make it very different from driving on the road.

For instance, when you’re driving a car, you don’t have to contend with the road moving up and down like you do when navigating the swells on the open ocean. Despite the challenges to the driving experience, most people will adapt to driving their boat sooner if they have experience driving a car than those with no driver experience at all.

Besides the driver issues, the boat owner should complete a comprehensive safety and equipment check of the boat and its gear before launching into the lake or the ocean. The last thing you need is for disastrous circumstances to occur due to negligence when you’re far from shore.

Create and follow a pre-launch checklist and a landing checklist for assessing the boat before and after the boating trip. Make sure you understand the water and weather conditions and comply with all US navigation laws.

Before ever deciding to put your boat in the water, do yourself a favor and book a boat inspection with the US Coast Guard. The USCG offers this free service to anyone with a boat. They’ll go through it with a fine-tooth comb to see if it’s up to code.

While new boat owners might not get any benefit from this USCG service, it’s a must-have certification for any pre-owned boat buyer.

Next, ensure you have the required number of life jackets available for all passengers and that they meet USCG specifications for use in your aquatic environment, whether it be a lake or the ocean. While not entirely necessary, we recommend filing a float plan with the harbormaster of the USCG before setting out on your trip.

The float plan includes information like the number of crew on the vessel, your duration at sea, the communication channels, safety equipment, your planned route, the team leader, and your name and address. You’ll leave this information with the harbormaster before setting out, along with contact information for your next of kin.

motorboat driving

Safety Gear for Boating

As we continue with the safety narrative, it’s important to have everything you need for a potential emergency onboard. Make sure you follow this checklist of essential emergency items before departing on your trip.

Medical Kit

A first-aid kit could end up saving someone’s life on your trip. When you’re far out to sea on a marlin fishing trip, the nearest hospital is hours away. If something goes wrong, you need tools to help you manage the situation and preserve the person’s life until you have the chance to get them to the nearest hospital.

If the motor gives out on your while doing some deep-sea fishing, a tool kit can be the difference between going home and calling for a rescue. Get a tool kit with everything you need for general motor maintenance.

You never know when you’re going to encounter setbacks to your float plan and have to spend time out on the water at night. If you’re on the ocean, then you’re going to find it so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face at night. A flashlight is an essential piece of kit for lighting up the night out on the water.

Throwable PFD

Some boats must have a throwable PFD on board the vessel for emergencies. If someone goes overboard, you throw them the PFD. The PFD attaches to a length of rope, allowing the crew to recover the victim by hauling them back into the vessel.

Signal Flares

A signal flare could make the difference between a fast rescue or being lost at sea for weeks. Flares, SOS beacons, mirrors, radar reflectors, and water whistles help you optimize the chances of rescue when people, aircraft, or boats are within eyesight.

Fire Extinguishers

While you’re out on a body of water, you can’t rely on it to douse flames if a fire breaks out onboard your boat. A fire extinguisher offers you the fast extinguishing of the fire before it has the chance to spread and cause catastrophic damage to your boat.

Ropes are an essential piece of equipment for all boats, and they have hundreds of uses onboard any vessel. Ropes are a must-have for any boat, from docking in a slip at the marina to rescuing someone from the sea.

A sharp utility blade is a must-have item for cutting away old fishing nets, gutting fish, and many other functions on the boat.

VHF Marine Radio (VMR)

The VHF marine radio will save your life if things go wrong out at sea. You reach out to the Coast Guard on the emergency channel 16.

VHF Marine Radio

USCG Sailing and Steering Rules

The rules set by the US Coast Guard regarding the navigation and steering of a boat states that the conduct of all vessels must be consistent in normal conditions and during periods of restricted visibility.

Look up the USGCs list of boat conduct rules to get a better understanding of what you need to comply with when you’re out on the water or in the harbor. These USCG rules apply to all boats traveling through US waterways.

Vessels must maintain a watch for other vessels in the vicinity at all times and avoid speeding. The captain must maintain their speed based on factors like the visibility, traffic density, draft, maneuverability of the watercraft, and the weather conditions. It is the captain’s responsibility to avoid any potential collisions.

Overtaking is prohibited in most high-traffic areas, like moving in and out of the harbor or marina. If you are overtaking another vessel, make sure you maintain a safe passing distance at all times.

If you come across a vessel sailing in low-visibility conditions, make sure you take the necessary precautions to avoid involving your boats in a collision.

If you’re driving a powerboat, make sure you have your navigational lights on in low-visibility conditions and check the status of the lights on the sides of the boat, the stern, and the masthead.

Avoid Overloading Your Boat

Overloading is one of the leading causes of the boat capsizing, especially at sea. Your boat can only accommodate the weight it’s designed for.

Think of it like your car. If you overload your vehicle, the suspension can’t take the additional weight and starts to sag. As a result, the bottom of the vehicle and the exhaust silencer scrape on the road when you drive over small bumps.

While overloading a car on the road is dangerous, leading to reduced handling and braking of the vehicle, it’s potentially catastrophic for boats. If your overloaded boat encounters rough water, it could end up with the ocean swamping the deck and the berth, resulting in a sinking or capsizing event.

Pre-Departure Safety Checks

Your pre-launch safety checklist is another critical piece of the puzzle to a safe boating experience. Before launching the vessel, follow this quick checklist to ensure everything is ship-shape and ready for your aquatic adventure.

  • Check the fuel and fluids, and top everything off.
  • Check the battery charge.
  • Check the passenger manifesto and account for all heads.
  • Give the passengers a safety briefing of the weather and ocean conditions you face for the day.
  • Check the motor for leaks and the status of the propeller and prop blades.
  • Keep all your boat certificates onboard the vessel.
  • Open all the hatches to check for the presence of fuel fumes.
  • Check the hull for signs of cracks and other damage.
  • Turn on the electrical system and ensure there is a charge to the ignition.

After you’re happy with the checklist, launch the boat. Get everyone on board the vessel before starting the motor. After you get the engine running, leave it idling for a minute or two. This practice lets you check if excessive fumes come from the exhaust.

Driving a Boat Out Of its Berth

If you’re an experienced driver, you know that the biggest hassle with learning to drive a car is parking. Parking always trips people up, and getting the skill down is challenging for many people. It’s the same with moving your boat in and out of the berth or the slip at the marina or harbor.

Unlike cars, many other factors are involved in navigating the vessel out of the berth. You’ll need to consider the wind speed, ocean conditions, and weather.

New boat owners can mitigate the risk of damage to their boat by installing bumpers to the boat’s sides. While they don’t look attractive, they prevent the dock or marina from punching big holes in the boat’s sides.

If you’re launching in conditions where the wind is blowing right off the dock, then all you need to do is let go of the mooring lines, and the wind will drift you right out of the berth.

If there is a wind blowing as you launch, you’ll find it easier to back out of the berth in reverse than in the forward gear. The effect of the wind on the bow is greater than the stern. If you don’t recognize the situation, the bow starts to turn as you expose the stern to the edge of the platform.

You can engage the reverse gear and steer away slowly from the berth, slip, or marina where there is no wind. Where the wind direction is against the dock, release all docking lines except the stern line, allowing it to pull the slack as you reverse.

The line pushes the stern into the dock as you reverse the boat, moving the bow away. After rotating the boat through 45-degrees, release your stern line and sail away.

Considerations for Driving in Open Water

After getting the vessel out of the berth, it’s time to turn your attention to getting the boat out of the harbor. Make sure you adhere to the no-wake zone and leave at a gentle speed.

Once you are out on the open water, get the boat on its plane and start navigating your way to your destination or fishing spot. To get the right plane, open the throttle halfway and wait for the bow to settle before adding more speed.

When you’re turning, reduce your speed by around 25% before making the turn. Never turn the boat at top speed or risk a flipping accident. Do not run the engine at full speed in shallow waters and maintain a minimum distance of 100-feet from shore at all times.

Driving Your Boat in Rough Waters

Sooner or later, every boat captain faces rough weather conditions. Driving through rough water, big swells, and waves can be a harrowing experience, especially for new captains. Therefore, it’s important to know how to handle the situation when it occurs.

First, prevent yourself from landing up in dangerous situations by checking the NOAA weather report for your region before leaving. The NOAA weather report is accurate and makes it easy for you to get updates while you are out on the water. Most VHF marine radios have NOAA channels included in their features and functions.

Boating in Rough Waters

If the weather turns sour when you are out on the water, pay attention to the wind direction and where the clouds are moving. Notice the wind speed and any signs of lighting or rain to give you an idea of where the storm is coming from and its likelihood of crossing your path.

When the storm hits, make sure everyone is wearing their life jackets. Call the USGC using channel 16 on your VHF marine radio if there is an emergency or risk to property or life. In rough weather, the best thing you can do is calm your nerves and avoid panicking—panicking causes you to make bad decisions that could put people’s lives at risk.

How to Avoid Collisions with other Boats

While collisions between boats are rare, they happen from time to time. Follow these guidelines to avoid becoming a victim of a collision with another vessel.

  • Follow all harbor rules and pay attention to your surroundings when leaving the harbor and reaching open water.
  • Keep a lookout for all surrounding vessels and where they are heading.
  • Ensure you have plenty of room available when overtaking or passing other boats.
  • Reduce speed in low-visibility or rough conditions.
  • Avoid using alcohol; you could receive a $1,000 fine or jail time if convicted.
  • Give way to sailboats, commercial ships, and vessels with restricted maneuverability.

Overtake other vessels using the proper sound signal. Use a single short burst to signal your overtaking from the boat’s port side and two shots for overtaking on the starboard side.

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John is an experienced journalist and veteran boater. He heads up the content team at BoatingBeast and aims to share his many years experience of the marine world with our readers.

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How To Drive a Motorboat? (The Essential Guide)

motorboat driving

Do you long for sun-soaked days out on the lake, fresh breeze in your hair, and the wind in your face? Then learning how to drive a motorboat is the perfect way to enjoy the day! With this essential guide, you’ll learn the basics of driving a motorboat, from familiarizing yourself with the boat to practicing boat safety.

You’ll soon be cruising the open waters with confidence.

So let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Short Answer

1. Make sure you have the necessary safety equipment on board before you get started.

2. Check the fuel level and start the engine.

3. Put the motorboat into gear and slowly accelerate. Increase the speed gradually, keeping an eye out for other boats and obstacles in the water.

4. When youre ready to slow down or stop, reduce the throttle and put the motorboat into neutral.

Familiarizing Yourself with the Boat

Before setting off for an enjoyable day on the water, it is essential to make sure you are familiar with the boat and its controls.

This will ensure that you feel comfortable and confident when operating the boat.

Start by getting to know the boat, its controls, and the purpose of each.

Get familiar with the throttle, the fuel lines, the steering wheel, and the propeller.

Its also important to know how to operate the safety features like the fire extinguisher and life jackets.

Make sure you know how to turn on the engine as well as how to shut it off.

Before you take off, its important to check all the safety features and make sure everything is in working order.

Check the fuel levels and engine oil, and make sure the propeller is spinning correctly.

Its also important to make sure all passengers have the appropriate safety gear and that everyone is wearing a life jacket.

Once you have familiarized yourself with the boat and its controls, you are ready to start the engine and begin to drive.

Be sure to take a few moments to observe your surroundings and familiarize yourself with any other boats in the area.

This will help you to drive safely and courteously.

Now you are ready to start your journey.

Enjoy the ride but be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and stay alert to any potential hazards.

As you become more confident in your abilities, you can gradually increase your speed.

When its time to stop, reduce your speed and turn off the engine.

Lastly, be sure to take the necessary safety precautions and never operate a boat if you are not confident in your abilities.

With a bit of practice, you can learn to drive a motorboat safely and confidently.

Checking the Boat

motorboat driving

Before you can hit the open water with your motorboat, it is essential to check that the boat is in good condition.

This includes making sure the fuel levels and engine oil are at proper levels, and the propeller is in good working order.

Checking the boat also helps ensure that you have an enjoyable and safe experience on the water.

When checking the fuel levels, make sure that you are aware of your boats fuel capacity and the amount of fuel that is currently in the tank.

To check the oil levels, remove the dipstick from the engine and wipe it off with a clean cloth.

Then, reinsert the dipstick and check the oil level.

If the oil is at the proper level, it should be between the two marks on the dipstick.

If the oil levels are low, add more oil until it is at the proper level.

In addition, it is important to check the propeller for any damage or debris that may be stuck in it.

If you find any issues, make sure to take the necessary steps to repair the propeller before you set off.

Finally, make sure to check the boats battery and make sure that all of the lights and other electrical components are in proper working order.

By taking the time to check the boat before you set off, you can ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable experience on the water.

Starting the Engine

Starting the engine of a motorboat is one of the most important steps in taking a successful and safe voyage.

Before starting the engine, it is important to check the fuel levels and engine oil, as well as make sure the propeller is in good working order.

Additionally, check around the boat to ensure there are no obstacles or obstructions that could impede the engine’s performance.

Once these steps have been completed, you can begin the process of starting the engine.

Usually, this is done by turning a key or pressing a start button, depending on the type of motorboat you have.

The boat may also require a choke setting to be switched on, which helps the engine to start when it is cold.

When starting the engine, it is important to be aware of your surroundings.

Make sure to keep an eye out for other boats in the area, and be prepared to move out of the way if needed.

It is also important to stay alert for any changes in the weather conditions that could affect the safety of your voyage.

Once the engine has started, you can begin to drive.

Be sure to give the engine a few minutes to warm up before accelerating away.

This will help to ensure the engine is running optimally, and can help to prevent any damage to the boat or its components.

Driving the Boat

motorboat driving

Once you’ve checked your boat and it is ready to go, it’s time to hit the open water.

The most important thing to remember is to always be mindful of your surroundings and pay attention to other boats in the area.

When you first start driving, make sure you are doing it in an open area and away from obstacles.

This will give you more room to maneuver and learn the basics.

To start the engine, simply turn the key and listen for the boat to roar to life.

When accelerating, gradually increase the speed of the engine, as going too fast too quickly can cause damage to the boat.

As you drive, always be sure to pay attention to the water in front of you and make sure that you are following the rules of the lake or ocean.

It’s also important to maintain a safe speed and avoid sharp turns and abrupt stops.

When you are ready to stop, reduce the speed of the engine and turn off the key.

Keep in mind that it may take a few moments for the boat to come to a complete stop, so be sure to keep an eye on the water in front of you and adjust your speed accordingly.

Once the boat has stopped, you can either dock it or tie it off to a mooring.

Finally, no matter how confident you are in your boating abilities, always make sure to practice safety first.

Wear a life vest and make sure to check the weather before you head out.

If you are ever in doubt about driving the boat, it’s best to stay onshore and wait for conditions to improve.

Stopping the Boat

Stopping a motorboat is just as important as starting it, but can sometimes be more challenging.

Before you begin to slow down, be sure to check your surroundings and make sure you are not in the path of other boats.

As you begin to reduce your speed, make sure to keep your hands on the throttle in case you need to make any sudden adjustments.

Use the boats brakes, if available, to slow down, and only apply the brakes when you are close to your destination.

When the boat has slowed down to a stop, turn off the engine.

In addition, be sure to secure the boat to its dock or mooring point.

This will help keep it in place and prevent any damage caused by waves or wind.

Lastly, be sure to take the necessary safety precautions before and after disembarking from the boat.

With a bit of practice, you can learn to stop a motorboat safely and confidently.

Safety Precautions

motorboat driving

When you’re learning to drive a motorboat, safety should always be your top priority.

There are several key safety precautions you should take before and during your time on the water.

Before you take off, make sure you have a valid boating license and understand the local laws and regulations regarding motorboats.

Familiarize yourself with the boat and its controls, and ensure that you have the appropriate safety equipment on board, such as life jackets, flares, and a fire extinguisher.

Make sure to check the fuel levels and engine oil, and ensure the propeller is working properly.

Once you are on the water, it is important to be mindful of your surroundings.

Be aware of other boats in the area and keep a safe distance from other vessels.

Also, be sure to take into account the current weather conditions.

If the weather is stormy or windy, it may be best to stay off the water.

When it’s time to stop, reduce your speed and turn off the engine.

Make sure to secure the boat and any loose items to ensure they don’t fall overboard.

Lastly, you should always wear a lifejacket and avoid alcohol or drugs while operating a boat.

With these precautions in mind, you can enjoy a safe and enjoyable experience on the water.

Practicing with the Boat

Once you have familiarized yourself with the boat and its controls, it is important to practice driving the motorboat before you take it out on the water.

This is the best way to ensure you will be comfortable and confident when it comes time to drive.

Start by turning on the engine and slowly increasing the power.

Practice controlling the steering wheel and throttle to get a feel for the boat.

Dont forget to check the fuel levels and engine oil as you practice.

When you feel comfortable with the boats responsiveness, practice maneuvering in tight spaces such as docking the boat and navigating a channel.

You may want to practice these maneuvers multiple times to get a feel for how the boat handles.

You can also practice turning the boat in a circle or figure eight, as this will help you become familiar with the boats handling and acceleration.

Once you feel comfortable driving the boat, you can begin to practice more advanced maneuvers such as wake-jumping and wake-riding.

Wake-jumping is when you use the wake of the boat to jump the wake and land safely back in the water.

Wake-riding is when you use the wake to surf or ski behind the boat.

Both of these maneuvers require practice and skill, so make sure to take it slow and practice in a safe area.

By taking the time to practice driving the boat, you will be prepared and confident when you take it out on the water for a real adventure.

It is important to take all the necessary safety precautions and never operate a boat if you are not confident in your abilities.

With practice and the proper safety precautions, you can learn to drive a motorboat safely and confidently.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the basics of driving a motorboat, its time to put it into action! With a bit of practice and the knowledge youve gained here, you can confidently and safely drive a motorboat.

So, why wait? Get out on the water and make the most of your motorboat adventures!

James Frami

At the age of 15, he and four other friends from his neighborhood constructed their first boat. He has been sailing for almost 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge that he wants to share with others.

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How to Drive a Boat: A Beginner’s Guide

If you’re getting ready to drive a boat for the first time, there are some things you need to know! First of all, you’ll want to check the boater education requirements in your state , because you may need to take a course in order to legally operate a boat.

Once you’ve made sure that you’re in compliance with state law, the next step is learning how to drive a boat. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started!

How to drive a boat

There are many different types of boats, each with their own particularities. This guide focuses on how to operate a motorboat with an inboard engine. Tips for other types of boats can be found below!

Run the blower

If your boat has a dedicated engine compartment, it needs to be vented to eliminate any residual gasoline vapor before the engine is turned on. Run the blower for a few minutes while you go through your pre-departure checklist (see below).

Start the engine

Some boats have ignitions that are turned on with a key, others with the push of a button. Push-button ignitions may come with an RFID fob which must be in range in order for the engine to turn on.

The kill switch

The kill switch is a safety feature that automatically shuts off the engine if the operator leaves the helm . It’s generally a knob that must be pulled out and held in place by a clip on a lanyard that attaches to the operator’s clothing or life jacket.

Make sure to attach the clip before turning on the ignition. If the kill switch is in the closed position, the engine won’t start!

The throttle

The throttle must be in neutral for the engine to start.

Detach the mooring lines

When a boat is docked, it is usually secured with mooring lines. You’ll need to unmoor the boat before getting underway!

Use the throttle to get moving

The next step is to put the throttle in gear. Start with idle speed , which is the slowest and creates very little wake. This will enable you to get away from the dock, marina or harbor safely and without disrupting other boaters.

How to trim a boat

Adjusting the trim of a boat means raising or lowering the bow . Trimming a boat properly will improve performance and fuel economy, reduce drag and make the ride more comfortable for passengers.

Trim is usually controlled with a toggle on the dash. Toggling up will bring the bow up, and toggling down will bring the bow down. Lowering the bow is used to get the boat on plane as it accelerates. Once you are planing successfully, trim up to raise the bow and skim across the water.

How to steer a boat

If your boat is equipped with a wheel, steering it will be similar to driving a car in many ways—just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go! However, it’s important to note that there are many factors that affect a boat’s ability to turn, including the wind, currents, waves and more.

The vessel’s speed also has a major impact on how it turns. It’s much easier to make tight turns at slower speeds—trying to do so at high speed can even lead to capsizing in some cases! Remember to reduce your speed before making any major course correction .

How to slow down

To slow down, you’ll need to pull back on the throttle . Slowing sharply is a bit more complicated, because boats don’t have brakes. Once you pull the throttle back, you can shift to neutral, pause, then shift into reverse to exert some opposing force that will help you slow more efficiently .

Remember that boats generally aren’t equipped with seatbelts, so any abrupt maneuvers you perform may dislodge your passengers from their seats, injure them or even send them overboard. When abrupt maneuvers are unavoidable, call out a warning to your passengers to hold on.

How to stop a boat

If you’re moving forward and cut the engine, the boat will continue on its course and slow down gradually. It’s important to get a feel for your craft and determine how much distance you need to come to a full stop at various speeds.

If you need to stop more abruptly, pull back on the throttle, shift to neutral, pause and then shift into reverse, as mentioned above. The trick is to use just enough reverse throttle to bring the boat to a stop gently .

Always pause in neutral before shifting between forward and reverse to avoid damaging your boat!

How to reverse a boat

Make sure your wheel is straight and shift to neutral, then into reverse. Turn and look in the direction you’re going—you can also have passengers act as spotters for extra help with situational awareness. It’s best to remain at a slow speed when reversing, particularly when docking.

Pre-departure checklist

  • Make sure there are life jackets in good condition in the correct sizes for everyone on board
  • Check the weather forecast to make sure conditions are acceptable for boating
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return
  • Make sure you have all of the required boating safety equipment on board
  • Make sure you have a marine chart with you so you know where you are and what hazards are in the vicinity
  • Make sure you have enough fuel for your excursion—as a general rule, account for 1/3 to get to your destination, 1/3 to come back, and 1/3 to keep in reserve
  • Check for hull cracks
  • Check the oil
  • Check the battery charge
  • Check all systems to make sure they’re working
  • Make sure the load is evenly distributed on the boat
  • Make sure your communication equipment is in working order

How to drive different types of boats

For most motorized vessels, the steps for driving a boat will be similar to those listed above, with a few variations.

Boats with outboard motors

Unlike inboard engines, outboard motors are mounted to the exterior of a boat . They are generally steered using a tiller . Since there is no engine compartment, venting is not required. Instead, prime the motor to get the fuel flowing, pull the starter cord and adjust the choke if necessary.

Once the motor is running, you can twist the handle of the tiller to speed up or slow down, and push and pull the tiller to steer.

Pontoon boats

While the shallow draft of a pontoon boat allows for more deck space, it makes the vessel slower and less maneuverable than other types of boats. The reduced maneuverability is important to keep in mind when driving a pontoon boat.

Conversely, powerboats can get up to very high speeds, which can make turning hazardous . It’s important to take care with the throttle and trim when turning a powerboat in order to avoid capsizing.

General tips for driving a boat

  • Always maintain your situational awareness and keep alert for potential hazards
  • When in doubt, slow down —reducing speed provides additional time to respond in a dangerous situation
  •  Always take the weather and other external factors into account (wind, waves, current, etc.)
  • Try to approach large waves at a 45-degree angle to minimize the impact
  • Try to avoid sudden maneuvers when on plane
  • Shift to neutral to make directional changes in tight spaces for more precision
  • Never boat under the influence

Learn everything you need to know about boating from Drive a Boat USA!

There are a lot of things to keep track of when driving a boat. That’s why most states mandate a US boat safety course to keep recreational vessel operators and their passengers safe on the water.

Drive a Boat USA offers a NASBLA-approved boater education course that can be done entirely online. Just study the materials to learn everything you need to know about operating a boat safely, and then take the exam to obtain your certificate when you feel ready! Register today.

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How To Drive a Boat

  • Updated March 14, 2024

If you’ve never driven a boat before, then you’re in for a new adventure. Driving a boat is not the same as getting behind the wheel on land. For one thing, there are no roads, only a few signs, and the weather can make it very easy to disrupt any boating and fishing plans you have for the weekend.

Don’t let those thoughts shy you away from finally dipping your toes in the water, though. Driving a boat isn’t all that complicated. You might feel the jitters for a bit, I get it, but you’ll get over it quickly. And before you know it, you’ll be excited to sail the water.

How To Drive a Boat Featured Photo

Whether you intend to rent or buy a boat soon, learning how to drive one should be your first objective. Otherwise, hiring a captain will be your best option if you rent a boat, which can up your rental fee. If you know how to drive a vessel, you’ll be able to explore waters freely, especially if you have your own boat.

After all, it’s important that you have some type of instruction before embarking on a boat trip. Most US states will require you to complete a boating safety course. And if you want to be serious about driving a boat, it’s best to get a captain’s license.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step guide on how to properly operate a boat. I’ll also go over the various basic marine terminologies and gears you may need to familiarize yourself with. Don’t fret—I’ll make it as easy for anyone to understand as possible.

Are you ready to be the captain? If it’s a yes, then let’s get started!

Age Requirement for Driving a Boat

Each state imposes different age requirements for driving a boat. The minimum age to legally operate a boat in Arizona, for example, is at least 12 years old, while it’s 16 in Texas. And that’s without certification and will depend on the type of boat you’ll be driving.

In other states such as New York and Oklahoma, you can start as young as 12 years old. However, you must have a specific certification to operate a boat until the age of 18. If you are above 18, you can drive a boat without the need for safety certification.

Conversely, there is no regulation governing the age requirement to operate a boat in several states . In addition, not all states mandate a boat operator’s license.

The states of California, New Mexico, and Utah don’t have restrictions for operating non-powered watercraft. California has the latest boating education requirements. Although in 22 states, proper documentation of satisfactory completion of the boater education course is necessary.

Drive a Boat

Boats come in different types, but we’ll start with the basics of operating a motorboat. This will make it easier for you to become acquainted with operating a pontoon boat, or other types of boat, even if they have varying features.

Whether you have an inboard or outboard engine boat, the general process applies. However, there can be some minor differences between models. In any case, here are some fundamentals on how to drive a boat.

Run the blower.

But first, check if it’s safe to launch a boat. The vessel may have an engine compartment and it might be filled with fuel vapor. This can be devastating if ignited by starting the boat’s engine.

As per United States Coast Guard (USCG), that compartment needs ventilation through a blower. So, the very first step you need to do is turn on your engine compartment blower. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. This step helps you to guarantee that fumes don’t accumulate in the compartment.

It generally takes a simple toggle on the dash. Once it is up and running, spend a few minutes going over your pre-departure checklist.

Start the engine.

When it comes to starting the engine, keep in mind that newer boats may have a key ignition or a push-button one. But regardless, they all work roughly the same way. In most scenarios, push-button engines still have a key. It just functions as a security element.

For key ignition, insert the key and turn to start the engine. You do this the same when you start a car. A push-button ignition fob will require you to hit the button. Other push-ignitions require a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag to be within reach to unlock the ignition.

Driving a boat may be the same as operating other vehicles with a motor. However, it requires knowledge that is not accessible when you own a car or other forms of motorized vehicles.

Engine safety cut-off or “kill switch”

Almost every motorized boat has some type of kill switch to deactivate engine performance in case the boat operator moves away from the helm. It’s a little red knob located near the ignition or sometimes, the throttle. You’ll find it in many smaller or open boats. This safety feature needs to be activated to start the engine.

A small clip connected to either the skipper’s life jacket, vest, or belt loop keeps this switch activated while operating the boat. Since it’s spring-loaded, it should be drawn out and fastened with the clip. The kill switch clip must be connected as part of your pre-departure checklist.

Throttle position

The throttle is another safety feature, keeping the engine from starting. In most cases, the throttle should be in a neutral position for the engine to start. This is to ensure that the engine isn’t already in place and under throttle load when it starts.

You won’t need to stress about the throttle position if you’re new to boating. But it can be a possible culprit that the engine doesn’t start when engaged. The 12 o’clock position is usually neutral, which means the throttle handle is perpendicular to the surface of the water with the lock engaged.

Attach the lanyard to the life vest.

Certain boats have an engine safety cut-off or the kill switch. It automatically shuts down the engine as you leave the helm. If your boat has this function, ensure that the lanyard is attached to the life jacket. You can do so by clipping the lanyard to the belt loop of your jacket.

Remove the boat lines.

Next, you must remove the mooring lines. These are ropes used to fasten your boat to a slip, pier, or dock. This can include dock lines, mooring lines, and spring lines. To detach these lines, you have to move your boat and begin driving.

It should be easy to remove since the cleats are accessible from the boat’s deck. If you can’t do it on your own, you may ask for some help from a dock worker at the marina.

Get moving.

Once you remove the boating lines, it’s time to get moving and start to learn the fundamentals of driving. You can just pull forward and depart the dock area based on how you’re docked. But if you’re parked in a covered slip, you will need to pull the boat out first before proceeding.

Then, activate the engine in forwarding or backward gear. To start the engine, hold the throttle position and push the underneath button. Crank the throttle forward or backward, and once you sense it clicking into place, release the button. If you need to reverse the vessel to get out of a slip, just pull the throttle back.

Shifting the throttle handle forward will boost the RPM and provide greater power when in gear. If you need to move slowly and gain a controlled movement, you can put your vessel in gear at idle speed. This is ideal for “no wake” zones such as docks and ports.

Adjust the throttle.

You can also adjust the throttle as needed. Because speed is so important in boat control, understanding how to correctly regulate the throttle makes controlling your boat a lot easier.

Keep in mind that moving the throttle handle forward from its neutral position increases the quantity of fuel/air ratio sent to your engine.

Throttle control is crucial for people learning how to drive a boat safely and effectively. Also, there are no pedals that you can step on as you would in a car. If you want to go slowly at the first movement, as I’ve already mentioned above, you must pull back on the throttle as it will not revert to idle by itself.

In the early phases of learning how to drive a boat, keeping a high level of situational awareness will be difficult. But it’s an important skill to have so that you’ll be able to adjust the throttle when the circumstance calls for it.

Adjust your speed.

Adjusting to your desired speed is important, and you must do so depending on weather conditions. And, much like when driving a car or any other motor vehicle, you should be cautious in controlling your speed to avoid accidents.

If you need to slow down, simply draw the throttle back to the neutral position. To accelerate the boat, slowly advance the throttle.

How To Operate the Boat’s Throttle

The boat’s throttle is like the gas pedal in your car. As you push it forward, your boat follows suit. So the more you push it forward, the speedier it goes.

But unlike a car, once set to a fixed speed, it does not change. This means that slowing down needs more than simply removing your foot from a pedal; you must also hold the throttle and draw it back.

If you notice a strong wave or a lot of traffic approaching, you must be poised to shift the throttle correctly. And that’s when situational awareness comes into play.

When you drive a boat with a motor, it’s critical to keep an eye out for things that could demand a reaction. In marine terms, you must “maintain a “proper lookout,” which is quite self-explanatory.

As the captain, you must be observant at all times. You must be able to recognize when there’s any risk of collision or any other situation that may demand action at the helm.

Also, it is always a good idea to monitor the weather conditions in your location prior. Checking the weather before boating is vital if you’re still a novice boat operator and aren’t very skilled at driving a boat in rough water or amid waves.

Steering a Boat

Like I’ve said above, steering a boat is so much like how you would operate a car. But you must always consider other factors that affect your boat’s direction of motion. This may be wind, speed boat engine, current, and waves and wakes. So, you can expect the boat to react differently depending on the weather.

Steering the boat might not always shift the boat’s course precisely as expected. This is especially stressful while docking, something that many beginner boaters consider to be one of the most difficult maneuvers to master.

When you go at a low pace, you can steer a boat in a tighter radius than when you are moving at greater speeds. Tighter steering at slow speeds is also less risky than turning at higher speeds which can make your boat fall overboard in some serious scenarios.

Remember to carefully slow down before making large speed adjustments.

Slowing Down a Boat

Your boat doesn’t have brakes. It requires you manually adjust the throttle when slowing down, however, it’s not that simple. The stopping distance for each boat will vary depending on a range of factors.

First of all, you’ll need to become well acquainted with your boat. You must understand how much space it requires for you to safely arrive at a full stop when traveling at different speeds.

In addition, you need to be careful when you change your speed or turn. And whenever you make fast maneuvers, you should send a warning signal to all the people on board.

Boats, unlike cars and trucks, don’t have seatbelts and are susceptible to much more motion. So, you can expect sudden shifts in direction and speed which can throw your passengers off balance or lead them to tumble overboard.

If you want to slow down faster, you may do a power-assisted brake by moving into neutral, stopping, and then switching into reverse and raising the throttle. And, always pause in neutral before shifting from forward to reverse, as doing so too rapidly might cause mechanical damage in certain boats.

Reversing a Boat

Many beginners may not consider this, but there will be occasions where you’ll need to maneuver your boat in reverse. Typically, it should be done at slow speeds and is regulated in settings such as marinas, docks, and harbors.

If you’re used to driving a boat forward and how it operates when the engine is pushing it, then you’ll need to get used to pulling the vessel backward as well. Reversing a boat will be more effective than you imagine in settings like docks and marinas. So, make use of small throttle adjustments.

When you need to reverse the boat in an urgent situation, you must pause after reaching neutral.

Stopping a Boat

Stopping a boat is one of the fundamentals of boating, and to accomplish it successfully, you must be able to balance properly. When you cut the engine while traveling at a certain speed, the boat remains to cruise along its prior route, ultimately slowing down.

You must apply a force roughly equivalent to the force that is driving you ahead if you need to pause the boat. And you can do so with a little shove to reverse. But in certain cases, it requires a lot faster or instant correction, where you may need to do more than a slight nudge to reverse.

Also, keep in mind the powerful force that will be at play. You and your passengers must prepare for the transition. Otherwise, you’ll experience a very quick and significant drop in forwarding motion, which can result in serious injury. The fundamentals of driving a boat also include the ability to stop efficiently and safely.

How To Trim a Boat

After you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll want to understand some of the specifics of driving. This way, you’ll operate the boat more smoothly and efficiently. A vital skill to acquire is how to trim a boat. This entails adjusting the angle of the outdrive or using trim tabs which are the tiny plates on the boat stern.

The way you trim the vessel impacts how much the bow rises in comparison to the stern, as well as how level or not the boat runs. It differs from boat to boat though, so you must play around it until you see how your particular boat responds to changes in drive angle or the use of trim tabs.

Also, in smaller vessels, shifts in weight distribution, including a passenger moving around the boat can influence trim.

Driving Different Types of Boats

Driving Different Types of Boats

Every boat design is unique in some way. However, some boats require special attention, as well as more training and certificates.

The most popular types of boats you’ll encounter in coastal and freshwater locations are a diverse mix of leisure and recreational vessels. Such boats are frequently interchangeable, despite the fact that they drive and handle in quite different manners.

Keep in mind that every boat is different. It takes experience to learn how to drive any vessel. And don’t be upset if you encounter a few speed bumps while learning how to operate a boat. Try to enjoy the experience and you’ll soon get used to driving these boats.

Fishing Boats

Fishing boats vary in size from small vessels ideal for lakes, rivers, and ponds to larger boats suited for sportfishing. These boats will often have v-shaped hulls. This feature helps the boat navigate through waves and weather.

A fishing boat usually features an engine that is proportional to its size. This allows it to maneuver quickly. Meanwhile, larger vessels often have highly powerful engines. So, even slightly adjusting the throttle can result in a significant change in speeds.

Pontoon Boats

Pontoon boats have several interesting features. Even some of the more powerful pontoon boats can tow tubes. And while such boats are enjoyable, they really aren’t quick or agile.

The larger buoyant pontoons that earn it its name, as well as their capacity to float, make these boats maneuverable.  Although these boats have greater deck space, you still need to be more cautious in navigating and maneuvering. This is especially important while docking.

Often seen on coastal waters, sailboats are a type of boat that requires not just special training to operate, but you’ll also need sailing certifications. This way, you’ll be able to improve your skills.

These boats are usually underpowered. So, they have their own set of guidelines for driving straight and reversing. Sailboats will often require at least a small crew to operate properly.

Driving Inboard Motor vs. Outboard Motor

Outboard engines are situated straight often at the rear or stern of the boat where they are visible. Though I focused this guide mainly on how to drive inboards, this knowledge is easily adaptable to outboards with a few small tweaks.

Keep in mind that most of the process of how to drive a boat will be the same for both inboard and outboard motors. With outboards, though, you won’t have to deal with activating the exhaust fan to vent the engine compartment. This is because it’s readily vented to the outside.

Also, certain outboards may use a tiller to steer, eliminating the need for a steering wheel. To maneuver such boats, you must hold the tiller and physically turn the engine and regulate the throttle.

Things To Prepare

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, driving a boat isn’t the same as driving a car. In order for a boat to move, it must cut through the water. You’ll also encounter mishaps each season, so it’s always best to equip yourself and take all necessary safety precautions before you go boating.

You must complete a pre-departure checklist. This includes being mindful of water conditions, adhering to US navigation regulations, and avoiding overloading. As well as requesting a complimentary USCG vessel safety check.

Some of the key safety guidelines include having a separate life jacket for every passenger, and that’s according to the law. In certain areas, children under the age of 13 are also required to wear life jackets. You should also prepare your safety gear and a float plan. And make sure you don’t drink and drive.

A float plan should contain a set of vital information on the following:

  • Team leader
  • Communication channel
  • Safety equipment
  • Your intended route
  • Name and address of anyone onshore to notify the authorities in case of an emergency

Driving a Boat in Waves

Driving a Boat in Waves

When you drive a boat, there’s a high possibility that you’ll meet some type of wave. You’ll usually encounter waves produced by other boats. These waves may be rather dangerous if not dealt with correctly. Waves are also prevalent when the wind speed increases.

In these situations, the safest way to approach it is to take your time, trim down, and aim to take the waves parallel to your vessel’s long axis. You may also reduce the likelihood of a wave tossing your boat and capsizing it by allowing your bow to cut through the waves.

How To Drive a Boat FAQs

How do you navigate a boat.

To begin, deceive whether you want to navigate using electronic or traditional (analog) methods. Start by using your GPS or chart plotter if you’re using electronic navigation. Take note of your current location, boat speed, and direction of movement.

To get from point A to point B, build a waypoint. Then, connect the waypoints to form a route, and use auto-pilot as needed.

If you prefer traditional navigation, you can use a compass, parallel rulers, and charters. Make sure to keep your eyes on the ground and use important landmarks as waypoints.

Is it hard to navigate a boat?

Navigating a boat is completely different from driving a car on land. You’re not driving down the road, and there are only a few indications other than basic nautical markers designating main waterways. If you’re unlucky, you may also encounter fog.

What is the easiest type of boat to drive?

Smaller boats like bowriders and runabouts are easy to drive and suitable for beginners. They are perfect for day outings and basic water sports. As well as simple fishing excursions.

How do you read a boat marker?

When you come from open water, red marker buoys are on the right side (starboard) of the boat. Green channel markers, on the other hand, should be on your starboard when you travel off to open water. The red marking buoys are also triangular in shape with day beacons or boards.

Final Thoughts

Before you set off, go over your pre-departure checklist to verify that both you and your boat have all the things you may need for your trip. I hope you find this guide helpful in your journey to learning how to drive a boat. Make sure to adhere to rules and practice safety measures while on the water.

Good luck and have fun!

Joshua Wright

Joshua Wright

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How To Drive A Boat (Understanding The Mechanics)

Of every new skill I have learned, few are as notably amazing and potentially terrifying as the first time I drove a boat.  I was instantly hooked and eager to learn.  In fact, I am still learning and am now completing my captain’s ticket.  Most of what I know now, I really wish I knew earlier.

Every beginner needs to know these five primary aspects of driving a boat:

  • Understanding the mechanics that move a boat
  • Get Your Boat Moving
  • Driving Out To Deep Water
  • Steering A Course
  • Driving Home
  • Close Quarter Maneuvering

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Basic Mechanics Of Driving A Boat

motorboat driving

To not overcomplicate things, this article will focus on the skills and mechanics of driving a boat with dual motors.  Sailing is an entirely different ball game altogether, and vessels with single engines have slightly fewer mechanics to keep track of.  

The average boat has four driving mechanics that the skipper uses to control the vessel:

  • The rudder or direction of the motors in the case of outboard motors
  • The gears (either forward or reverse)
  • The throttle (in many cases, the throttle and gears are combined)
  • The trim tabs

To understand how to drive a boat effectively, you need to understand what these mechanisms do and how to use them.

The rudder is the primary steering mechanism of a boat.  Larger vessels with inboard motors (motors inside the boat) will use a rudder, while smaller boats and powerboats with outboard motors use the direction of the propellers as a rudder. 

When you turn the wheel on the boat, you turn the rudder, which creates drag at the stern of the boat, and, as a result, turns the bow. 

In the case of outboard motors, turning the wheel turns the motors in the same direction.  So, while the drag on the motors acts as a rudder, the significant change comes from changing the direction of the propeller’s force.  The engines push or pull the vessel’s stern at an angle, making the vessel turn.

The Gears And Throttle

The gears and throttle can be separate on larger vessels, but it is common to see them combined on smaller, outboard-driven boats. 

The two throttle and gear levers can either be pushed forward or pulled back, together or one at a time.  Moving these levers forward from the center, or neutral, position puts the motors into a forward propelling gear (ahead).  On the other hand, pulling them back puts them into reverse gear (astern). 

On vessels with a separate throttle, you would have an extra set of levers to control how fast the boat moves in the selected gear.  However, you simply need to push or pull the levers further to increase the speed of a combined system. 

The Trim Tabs

Up to this point, you may be thinking that the controls are about the same as a car with an automatic gearbox, but here are where things start to get a little bit more complex.

The trim tabs control plates at the vessel’s stern (inboard motors) or the height of the engines in the case of outboards. 

The drag and force will lower the boat’s bow by pushing the trim plates or motors further down.  Inversely, pulling them up will lift the bow. 

This is important in the open seas and lakes because, unlike a road, water is constantly moving, and you need to position the boat’s bow at a height that best approaches the moving surface.

Section 1 – Get Your Boat Moving

Now that you have a picture of the mechanics of a boat, it’s time to take her out!  Firstly, you need to get her moving.  I would suggest that if it is your first time driving a boat, you do so in the open water and later tackle leaving the harbor yourself as you gain experience.

Step 1:  Conduct Safety Checks

Before you set off, you need to ensure that you, your crew, and your vessel are ready and up to the task at hand.  Every owner/skipper typically has their own procedure for safety checks which usually includes checking:

  • All life jackets are dawned properly
  • The fuel tanks are full
  • There is water and food onboard for the journey
  • All emergency equipment such as flares and fire extinguishers are in working condition
  • Everybody on board is briefed on the voyage and what to do in the case of an emergency.

Step 2:  Start Your Engines

With the safety checks done and dusted, you can go ahead and attach your kill switch lanyard and start the motor.  Before turning the keys, make sure that the gears are in neutral and that there are no people or objects close to the engines and propellers.

Step 3:  Leave The Harbor

With your motors running, check that you are clear of obstacles around you and gently push your throttles forward.  The vessel may take a second or so to respond, be patient, and do not over accelerate – no one is going to be happy if you go racing into another boat. 

Driving a boat, especially in and out of the harbor, is tricky and involves understanding several rules, known as collision regulations (or “colregs” for short). 

Section 2 – Driving Out To Deep Water

After you leave the harbor, you will likely be faced with a situation of proceeding to deep waters.   For open seas and large lakes, this means going in the opposite direction of the waves, which can be intimidating in rougher conditions. 

Step 1:  Trim Your Bow Down

Here is where your trim starts coming into play.  Typically, if you are proceeding into the waves, with the swells approaching your bow, you need to trim your bow all the way down. 

The reason for lowering the bow is so that if a big wave suddenly pops up, you can punch the nose through the water instead of having the wave pick up the vessel’s bow and capsize you in a magnificent backflip.

You will be driving the boat up the face of the waves, and lowering the bow will help keep the boat’s weight balanced instead of shifting it to the stern, possibly tipping you over.

Step 2:  Approach The Swells At Right Angles

Always try and drive over a wave or swell as close as possible to right angles or head-on.  Doing so is the surest way of getting over the wave safely.  If you hit a wave at an angle, you run the risk of the wave picking up your boat and capsizing you over your beam (rolling you).

Step 3:  Carefully Control Your Speed

A way to think about speed when heading out is to approach the swells with confidence but not recklessness. 

If you use too little throttle, your vessel may be overpowered by the incoming swells.  In this case, the wave can pick up your boat, and then all manner of horrible things can happen. 

However, if you hit the wave too hard, you could find yourself literally flying off the other end of it, possibly damaging you, your boat, and your crew.  So instead, approach the wave with a decent speed and back off the throttle as soon you make contact.

Section 3:  Steering A Course

Usually, when you steer a course for the first time, you start to realize the effect of the water, current, and wind on your vessel.  Steering a course simply means driving from point A to point B, but elements can drastically affect your course.

Step 1:  Set A Course To Steer

To reach your destination, you need to be sure that you are driving your boat in the right direction.  Let’s assume that you have your destination fixed at straight East (compass) from your current location. 

You would turn your wheel until your compass line is 090 degrees, which would steer you on the right course. 

Step 2:  Adjust Your Speed And Trim

While driving your set course, you might find that your bow seems to be “sticking” or “digging” into the bottom of each wave and bump as you are driving.  If this happens, trim your bow up slightly until this digging stops.  Having your bow too low can also lead to increased splashing on board, making for a wet and uncomfortable ride. 

You then need to adjust your speed to find that comfortable sweet spot that isn’t so fast that you are losing control, but also not so slow that you’re making everyone seasick.

Step 3:  Check That You Remain On Course

You’re having the time of your life.  There is a Northerly breeze, but otherwise, it’s a lovely day out.  Assuming calm waters, you diligently keep the vessel at 090 degrees, and after 30 minutes, you check your track on the GPS and realize to your horror that you have driven the boat at 095 degrees from your starting point. 

You’re not sure where you went wrong because you help the compass bearing at 090 faithfully the whole time.  You may have held a course of 090, but that Northerly breeze has blown you off.

So, what can you do to right your course?  Well, you can adjust your steered course and or speed.  For example, if the wind has pushed you off course 5 degrees, you can simply change your course to compensate.  So, instead of steering 090, steer 085. 

Section 4:  Driving Home

When returning home or changing course on the water, you may be driving in the same direction as the swells.  This is known as the following sea, and it is, at least for me, more intimating. 

Step 1: Trim Your Bow Up

Coming down the face of a large wave is basically like driving a car downhill, only this car doesn’t have breaks, and the hills are moving.  At the bottom of the swell, there is depreciation, or a hole, before the backside of the next wave. 

At this point, you need to get your bow onto the back of the next wave.  To do this, you have to trim your bow up, which is like increasing the angle of approach on a 4×4 vehicle. 

Having your bow trimmed too low means that you run the risk of driving nose-first into that hole, potentially flooding the vessel.

Step 2: Never Drive Full Throttle

These are not the conditions where you will want to open all the taps and show off what the boat can do.  You need to keep some power in reserve. 

One of the most significant risks is known as broaching.  This takes place when a wave picks up the boat, and you start to surf down the face of it.  And, just so you know, surfing is NOT something you want to do with a boat. 

Broaching can quickly end in the wave turning the boat and capsizing it for the inexperienced.  If you find your boat being broached, you want to alter your steering and then open your throttles to drive straight down the face of the wave. 

Step 4:  Try And Stay On The Back Of The Wave

One of the safest ways to drive home is to get your vessel on the back of a wave and then adjust your speed to match the wave.  Ride the back of that wave until it starts to dissipate, and then move to the next wave in front of it.  Rinse and repeat until you’re home safe. 

Here is a good video on driving out into the sea or lake and driving home:

Section 5:  Close Quarter Maneuvering

At this stage of my boating journey, if you asked me which part of driving a boat scares me the most, I would have to say close-quarter maneuvering. 

The job of steering a big boat into tight spaces with a high risk of damage to your vessel and/or the vessels around you is a perfect stress inducer.  And as fate would have it, the more you stress during such maneuvers, the higher the chance of messing up is.

Here are some crucial things to remember during close-quarter maneuvers and docking.

Step 1:  Check The Wind And Current

The effect of the wind and current will become immediately evident during close quarters where the smallest of movements can have big impacts. 

When you are approaching a dock or mooring, you need to consider what the wind and current are doing before you begin your maneuver.  For example, if a strong wind blows past your dock, you will need to start making your turn upwind and allow the wind to carry you toward your goal. 

Being ignorant of the wind and current can quickly steer into objects or other boats.  Unfortunately, I speak from experience. 

Step 2:  Use Your Motors More Than Your Wheel

A vessel with dual motors has a fabulous hidden talent of sorts.  Without touching the wheel, you can steer the boat using just the engines. 

If you go ahead with only your port motor, the force is placed on your port stern quarter, which effectively will push the boat’s port side faster than the starboard side, turning the boat to starboard.

If you put that same motor astern, you pull the port quarter backward, effectively turning the boat to port.

In the same way, you can use both motors in opposing directions (one ahead and one astern) to “spin” the boat in one spot. 

There is a good deal of finesse and practice required to use the motors to steer the boat, but it is an essential skill.

Step 3:  Take It Slow

There is an old saying that you should only go as fast as you want to hit the dock. 

If you are parking a car and find yourself rolling toward calamity, you simply need to apply the brake and reset.  With a boat, there’s no break. 

So, if you apply too much thrust forward, pulling the throttles back to neutral is not going to stop you, and you will keep drifting.  You have to apply throttle in the opposite direction to your drift to stop.

The lack of a brake means that speed is not your friend while operating in tight spaces.  Remember too that if you apply constant throttle, your boat’s speed will gradually increase as momentum increases, so you need to control your speed by using small bursts of throttle and letting her drift.

Be patient and go slowly. 

This is one of the best videos that I have seen on driving a boat in close-quarters:

Driving a boat can be an intimidating and steep learning curve, but it is also one of the most rewarding skills that you can learn.  The primary steering mechanism is the rudders and motors, which you can turn with the wheel.  The gears will make the engines go ahead or astern, while the throttle will make the boat faster or slower.

When driving out to deep water, remember to keep your bow down and up during the ‘following seas.’  Also, practice close-quarter maneuvering, which can be challenging but will give you lots of confidence for handling your boat in the open sees as well.  It may be a cliché but remember to relax and have fun. 

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Check out our article on: How To Launch A Boat (6 Easy Steps)

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A-Z of motor boats: your ultimate guide

  • A-Z of motor boats: your ultimate guide

Motor boats don't often take centre stage in our magazine, but we're about to change that. This in-depth feature explores the different kinds of motorboats, their manufacturers, how they differ from sailboats, and weighs their pros and cons. We'll help you figure out if a motorboat is the right fit for you, when to best venture out on one, and we'll delve into the requirements and conditions for a skipper's licence. In essence, we're bringing you the complete motorboat rundown. All hail the engine!

Differences to a sailboat

The age-old debate of powerboat versus sailboat is a classic theme in many a nautical conversation. We're not here to pick a side between those who favour sails and those who prefer motors. Instead, our aim is to present you with a balanced view, packing all the necessary facts, insights, and knowledge into one comprehensive discussion.

Draft and bridges

A motorboat's draft is significantly shallower, thanks to the absence of a keel. Furthermore, the lack of a mast means there's no need to worry about the boat's height when it comes to passing under bridges. So from a depth and overhead clearance perspective, you're in safe waters with a motorboat.

YACHTING.COM TIP: If you've never sailed under the renowned Pasman-Ugljan bridge, which has spelled disaster for numerous sailing boats, a motorboat provides the perfect chance!

Space and comfort

Broadly speaking, aside from mega yachts or specialist vessels, motorboats provide more space both below and on deck compared to similarly sized sailboats. They also typically feature multiple deck levels. So you can bask in the sunshine on one deck, and find shelter in the shade on another. Furthermore, on a motorboat, you don't have to fret about a precarious jib or the risk of tripping over winches or ropes. The deck tends to be more open and free from sailing gear, allowing for easier movement and relaxation.

If you have crew members who do not tolerate the heeling of a sailboat well, this concern is completely eliminated with motor boats. Unless you're faced with sizeable waves, the boat is likely to maintain stability and you won't need to worry about any significant tilting. This makes a motorboat a more comfortable choice for those sensitive to the motion of the sea.

heel of a sailing ship

You wouldn't find such a load on a motorboat

A leisure sailboat simply can't match the speed of a powerboat. While most sailboats average around 7 knots, motorboats can easily reach 15 to 20 knots. If you enjoy the thrill of speed and the feeling of wind in your hair, a powerboat is the perfect choice for you.

Consumption and costs

On the flip side, with the increased speed comes higher fuel costs. While on a sailboat, you might only need to refuel at the end of your trip or 2-3 times a week at most, resulting in a manageable fuel bill. However, if you're sailing for extended periods each day on a motorboat, you'll find yourself refuelling frequently, at a higher cost, and spending a significant amount of time waiting to fill up the diesel tank.

Level of effort and work

Starting a motorboat is straightforward; turn it on and off you go, cruising wherever you fancy. There's no need to fuss over ropes, the jib, sails, lazy bags, lazy jacks, or the whereabouts of the crank. Unlike on a sailboat where there's always something to keep you occupied, a motorboat offers pure relaxation and peace of mind. If you're seeking a laid-back cruising experience, a powerboat is the way to go.

Sailing direction

As long as there are no big waves and the Bora is not blowing against you, you can sail your motorboat comfortably pretty much anywhere you want. This isn't the case with sailboats, where you might have to cruise or alter your destination if the wind is blowing directly against you. While sailboat enthusiasts often say, "the journey is the destination," powerboat users are more about reaching their destination promptly and without fuss.

A sailing ship and a motor boat at sea off the Swedish coast sailing against each other

What is the difference between a motor boat and a sailboat?

Despite their differences, powerboats and sailboats do share some commonalities, with maintenance being the prime one. Regardless of the type of boat you own, upkeep is crucial. This includes taking care of the sails or engine and ensuring regular servicing. Moreover, marina fees apply uniformly to both. The harbour masters charge based on the length of the boat, irrespective of whether it's a sailboat or a powerboat. The only exception might be a catamaran, which typically incurs a higher fee due to its dual-hulled design, making it wider and potentially occupying the space of two conventional berths.

Disadvantages of motor boats

While motor boats offer numerous advantages, it's important to consider their potential drawbacks as well. Let's take off the rose-tinted glasses and delve into some of the downsides associated with powerboats.

Fuel dependency and non-environmental operation

Unlike a sailboat that can harness the wind as a natural and free power source, a motorboat is completely reliant on diesel fuel. Running out of fuel in the middle of your journey can leave you stranded. Furthermore, this dependence on fossil fuels also means that operating a motorboat has a greater environmental impact compared to sailing.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Speaking of ecology, check out our guide — Green sailing: 11 tips for eco-friendly yachting . 

Less stability in wind

Motorboats lack a significant keel, resulting in reduced stability when faced with waves and strong winds. Consequently, it is advisable to opt for motorboat rentals during the summer season, when occurrences of powerful winds and waves are comparatively infrequent.

Calm and the smell of the sea

The sound of the engine never leaves you during your voyage which can get on people's nerves. Likewise, the typical smell of burning diesel can start to bother you after a while.

Who is a motor boat best suited for?

A motor boat is well-suited for individuals seeking relaxation, tranquillity, and minimal effort. With the simple act of starting the engine, you can swiftly set sail without any additional concerns. Plus, a motor boat is highly recommended for those who desire to explore a wide range of places, including beaches and other scenic locations. It is particularly advantageous for covering long distances between islands and the mainland within the typical timeframe of a one or two-week vacation. Motor yachts are also a favourable choice for yachters who enjoy fishing, as they provide a comfortable and convenient means of transportation for navigating to different areas and indulging in fishing activities.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Find out what else you can do while sailing in our article — Top 12 fun activities to do on a sailing holiday .


Fishing is an great addition to a boating holiday.

For nature lovers seeking harmony and a closer connection to the natural environment, a sailboat is more preferable than a motorboat. Sailboats provide a serene atmosphere and allow for a deeper appreciation of nature. Additionally, if the aim is to foster teamwork and engage in shared experiences, a sailboat offers more opportunities as it involves handling ropes and sails.  But if you want to relax with a bunch of friends, there's nothing better than a powerboat.

Motor boat season

Unlike sailing boats that typically operate in Europe from April to November, motor boats have a more limited season. The majority of motor cruising occurs between June and September, with peak activity in June and July. Other times of the year, motor yachts are less commonly seen at sea. This is because before and after this season, conditions tend to be windier and the sea becomes cooler, which is more appealing to racers on sailing yachts rather than those seeking a tranquillity on a motorboat, particularly in destinations like Croatia.

YACHTING.COM TIP: What winds and weather will you encounter in the Mediterranean over summer? Check out our guide — The 7 most common winds you'll find in the Mediterranean . 

Motor boat licence

The licence needed to operate a motor boat depends on two criteria — the engine power and the area where you will be boating (whether sea or inland waters). If you want to cruise on a motor boat with an engine power of  less than 4kW , then you don't need a licence. This applies to houseboats or small boats, for example. You can sail a boat with a 4kW to 20kW  engine on inland waters with a VMP licence, but for the sea you'll need an international skipper's licence just as for a sailing boat and in some countries (such as Croatia), a radio licence . With engine power  above 20kW , for inland sailing and on the sea, you will need a certificate of engine experience for inland sailing in addition to the VMP.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Still hesitating about getting your skipper's licence? Take a look at our 5 reasons to take a skipper's course . Then check out our sailing courses and you'll soon be sailing the seas!

How to choose a motor boat?

Motor boats have a slightly different interior layout than sailboats. The smaller ones often have only one or two cabins and it is automatically assumed that the other couple sleeps in the saloon, often in the bow. Check before you make your final booking that you will have plenty of privacy. Small motor boats are designed for a couple or small family rather than several people who don't know each other.

Route planning

When choosing a boat, take note of how much the boat consumes. You may find that the fuel will cost you the same amount of money as the charter itself in a week's sailing. Plan your itinerary in advance so you know what to expect.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Want to enjoy your cruise to the fullest and without a care in the world? Try hiring a professional skipper or hostess for your yacht. They'll take care of running the boat, cleaning and cooking, leaving you to relax and spend time with your loved ones. Just ask our sales team.

Highly renowned motor boat brands in the charter industry

Here we have picked out the most popular types of motor boats from our search portal.

Probably the most infamous brand of motorboats is Merry Fisher. The Merry Fisher 795 models are among the best sellers and the Merry Fisher 895 is a common sight cruising the coastline of Croatia. Another sought-after model is the Antares 9 OB , which is generously equipped for a comfortable boating holiday, but if you're after something bigger, the Antares 11 Fly is a great choice. The Greenline 33 or its larger sibling, the Greenline 39 , are also fantastic options.

Antares boat

The popular Antares 9 OB model.

Other types of motor boats

Every motor boat is unique, and there can be a wide range of vessels categorized under the name "motor boat." Let's explore some intriguing and lesser-known motor boats that have distinctive features and stand out from the norm.

Small motorboat

Charter services also offer the option to rent small motor boats, which are perfect for day trips to secluded beaches, nearby islands, or bays that are inaccessible by foot. These boats are typically compact and may not have cabins, making them suitable for short excursions. They are particularly recommended for families who have rented an apartment by the sea and wish to explore the surrounding areas by water. In many cases, these small motor boats are equipped with relatively low-powered engines, and in several countries, you may not even require a skipper's license to operate them. We recommend, for example, the Zodiac Madline 2 or the slightly larger Four Winns H210 .

small boat

You can also rent a smaller boat.

Few people can buy a superyacht. And although many more people can rent one, it is still quite expensive. A superyacht or megayacht is considered to be a boat longer than 80 feet but you'll have to hire a professional skipper as only a handful of skippers have a licence for a boat of this length. For example, we offer the superyacht Azimut Grande 27 or MY Custom Line 52 m . These can cost up to 100,000 euros to hire for a week, but the price often includes a crew to look after the boat (including the professional skipper).

Superyacht Azimut Grande 27

Superyacht Azimut Grande 27

The main difference from the motor boats we rent at sea is that houseboats sail on freshwater streams and are designed for exploring rivers, canals, lakes, ponds, and dams. Although houseboats generally have less powerful engines, this feature often allows them to be rented without a license in most destinations. It's important to note that these houseboats are far from mundane, offering a unique and enjoyable holiday experience on calm waters. Check out these breathtaking destinations you can explore on a houseboat.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Never been on a houseboat?  Take a look at our our guide —   First time on a houseboat: 25 things you need to know!

Houseboat Nicols Estivale Sixto Prestige

This is what one of the most popular houseboats, the Nicols Estivale Sixto Prestige, looks like.

Power catamaran

Recently, motor catamarans or power catamarans have become more and more popular. They combine the advantages of a catamaran (two hulls, stability, space, nets to lie on,...) while offering the speed, carefree and comfort of a motor boat. Never driven a catamaran? Check out our article — First time on a catamaran: what you need to know

motor catamaran

Body of a two-hulled power catamaran.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Wondering what are all the types of boat you can charter? You will be surprised how many there are. Check out the article —  Boats for rent: what types of boats do charter companies offer?

How to operate a motor boat?

If you have sailing experience, driving a powerboat will seem like something very simple. You don't have to worry about ropes, sails, vignettes, masts or a flying jib. You simply start the boat and cruise wherever you want. Then it's the same as mooring with a sailboat.

One important aspect to be aware of when operating a motor boat is the  engine trim . Engine trim refers to the adjustment of the angle between the propeller and the bottom of the boat. Ideally, the propeller should be positioned vertically downward. As a motor boat gains speed, the bow of the boat may lift, causing the propeller to partially submerge. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the captain to intervene and adjust the engine trim to ensure that the propeller is aligned vertically and not at any angle other than 90 degrees to the water surface. This adjustment is crucial to prevent the boat from jumping or unnecessarily impacting the water with the bow. By maintaining the correct trim, the boat can navigate efficiently and provide a comfortable sailing experience for all on board.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Do you know how to operate the outboard motor on a dinghy? Read our article — Dinghy and outboard motor: what you need to know .

Where to sail with a motor boat?

We've selected 3 regions where you can enjoy a fantastic time with a motorboat and take advantage of its superior speed.

Vineyards and islands off Hvar

Start your journey from Split and make your way to the enchanting island of Solta or the sun-soaked Brac. For a glimpse of Croatia's renowned beaches, don't miss out on visiting Zlatni Rat. Proceed to the captivating island of Hvar, where we suggest exploring either the lively town of Hvar itself, the more serene town of Stari Grad, or the authentically charming Vrboska. Indulge in an overnight stay at a tranquil cove on the island of Ščedro, where you can delight in snorkeling alongside majestic clams. Depending on your available time and preferences, continue your voyage to the island of Vis and discover the picturesque village of Komiza, where you can experience the novelty of standing on a buoy or by the pier. During the day, take a trip to the island of Bisevo, home to the famed Blue Spila (blue cave).

Ionian Sea (and turtles!)

Rent a boat on the Greek island of Corfu. Upon taking over the boat on Saturday, take a leisurely stroll to the charming capital, Kerkyra, where you'll be enchanted by its delightful streets and atmosphere. Next, set sail south towards the island of Paxos, renowned for its breathtaking bays. During the day, make sure to indulge in a refreshing swim in Lefkada, a destination in the western part that boasts stunning beaches reminiscent of the Caribbean. Consider spending the night in the lively bay of Vasiliki, known for its vibrant nightlife and one of Greece's most famous kebab joints. The following day, continue your journey to Kefalonia and then proceed onwards to Zakynthos, famously known as the "island of turtles." If possible, sail as far south as you can towards Zakynthos, maximizing your exploration of this captivating destination.

Italian temperament

Experience the enchanting Bay of Naples, beginning in Baiae and venturing to Ischia, where you can navigate its waters at your leisure. Along the way, explore the quaint islet of Procida. Consider Ponza as an alternative to the bustling island of Capri. If time permits, visit the renowned Positano. Carry on to the breathtaking town of Amalfi, with its cliffside houses. Above all, indulge in la dolce vita.

Whether it's a motorboat or a sailboat, I'll find you the perfect choice. Give me a call.

Denisa Nguyenová

Denisa Nguyenová

Faq motor boats.

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How to Apply for a Boating License

In many states across the U.S., a boating license is required to operate most common types of large or motorized water vessels on both waterways and open coastal waters. How to get a boating license is decided on a state by state basis as there is no national legislation for licensing requirements. It is also common for states to forgo the licensing process and to instead require residents to complete a state-approved boating program before operating most types of water vessels. Boaters living in these states are usually required to carry their proof of completion of the necessary course as a permit for boat operation.

Many states allow residents to apply for an online boating license or to enroll in an accredited web-based education program. Most states also offer residents classroom-based boat certification courses that can be taken for a minimal fee if not offered for free by the community. All boaters must meet state eligibility requirements in order to operate a water vessel in that state. Boat operators are required to replace lost licenses or education cards if they are lost or stolen. Visit your state-specific page to learn more about licensing procedures and education requirements for boaters in your state:

Select a state to begin:

Do you need a license to drive a boat in the united states.

Getting a boat license is not a requirement in every state of the U.S. In fact, many states like Tennessee, Texas and Washington state require that most boat drivers complete a state-approved boaters safety course instead of applying for a formal license. Some states require all boat operators to apply for a license or education training, while others only require drivers of a certain age to apply.

Many states separate water vessels into different classes of boats, some which require licensure and some that do not. Oftentimes, kayaks, canoes, small sailboats and similar nonmotorized watercraft do not require licensure to be operated, but exceptions do exist.

Boat License Requirements

The boating license age for boat drivers varies significantly from state to state. In many cases, boat license requirements are divided up according to age groups. The boating age to independently operate a motor vehicle is 16 years of age in West Virginia , for example, although minors from 12 to 15 years of age can drive a boat under the supervision of a licensed adult. In Tennessee, independent operators of water vessels can be as young as 12 years of age if the necessary education course has been completed.

Getting a Boat License in the U.S.

Where to get a boating license depends on where the driver lives in the United States. Boating licenses and cards are issued by state agencies on a local basis and cannot usually be requested from national entities.

How long does it take to get a boating license in most states? Because the application procedures for licenses and cards is different from state to state, the total amount of time it takes to receive certification varies also. Most states offer short classroom courses that can be completed in a day and accept online courses that last between three to eight hours in duration.

Washington state residents must take a boating course and then provide proof of completion to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to be able to operate a water vessel. Boat operators residing in Wyoming do not need to apply for a license or a boat safety certificate to legally drive a water vessel in the state.

Wisconsin residents must request a special ID number from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources before they can sign up for any certified education program to have permission to boat in the state. Drivers must look into the specific policies of their state of residency to learn more about how to get a license in their location.

Boater Safety Courses

Boat drivers living anywhere in the United States can enroll in an online boaters safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) to learn more about the best practices for operating a variety of types of water vessels and local regulations and policies concerning the student’s state.

Most states offer in-person boating classes, as well. These are usually taught by trained government officials or local representatives from the military. The material covered in these boating lessons can vary significantly by provider, but generally covers the same principle topics that all drivers must be familiar with before operating any type of water vessel.

A typical boating education program should teach drivers everything they need to know to stay safe while boating. Holders of a boater education card should also be aware of how to leave a minimal impact on their surrounding environment. Because boaters are held to similar laws as operators of other motor vehicles, all courses also cover important laws and consequences that boaters must know before driving in a certain state.

Renewing and Replacing an American Boating License

In states that require a license or boater safety card, it is usually required that the boater keep proof of meeting state requirements with him or her at all times when operating a water vessel. As a result, drivers who have somehow lost or destroyed their boating license must immediately apply for a replacement through the necessary channels.

Certain states require drivers to apply for a duplicate from the state government, while other states direct drivers to request a duplicate directly from the course provider. In most cases, requests for duplicate licenses must be accompanied by the appropriate fee to be correctly processed.

Do boating licenses expire at any point? Whether a boat certification expires or not depends on the type of license or education card the driver has. States that only require a boaters safety certificate do not usually have expiration dates on their permits and allow drivers to operate water vessels without worrying about renewal procedures. This is true for boat operators in Vermont , for example. States that require drivers to be official licenses to operate a boat may have expiration dates.

Boat Registration Basics

Throughout the United States, a boat registration on the state level is required by most types of larger and motorized water vessels. Applying for a boat title and registration is usually a matter of submitting an application with proof of ownership and an application fee to the department of motor vehicles or transportation of that state. Most states offer multiple submission methods for registration and title documents.

Once the registration is processed, most states offer boat registration stickers that must be attached to a specific place on the outer hull of the applicable water vessel. Boaters who fail to comply with their resident state’s DMV boat registration procedure generally face penalties similar to driving a motor vehicle without the proper documentation.

Boat operators living in Wyoming, for example, must submit a registration request once every one or three years for all motorized water vessels to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department along with the necessary application fee to meet state requirements.

Boating Rules and Regulations in the United States

Boating rules throughout the United States were created with the purpose of keeping boaters, swimmers and other enjoying the water safe while sustainably using our natural resources. Most boating regulations are created on a state by state basis, but many basic best practices are the same across state boundaries.

Many of these regulations concern making sure that water vessels meet boat requirements like having the necessary Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) and emergency signaling systems. Examples of boating rules that are very common amongst various states include:

  • All water vessels must have at least one wearable, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved life jacket on board for every person on the boat at all times.
  • All life jackets must fit appropriately according to the age, weight and activity of expected occupants and be in proper, usable condition.
  • All water vessels of certain classes must have at least one throwable USCG-approved personal flotation device.
  • All boat passengers of any age aboard any type of personal watercraft (PWC) must wear a life jacket at all times.
  • Passengers on all water vessels who are young minors must wear an USCG-approved life jacket at all times when the boat is in motion.
  • All motorboats, houseboats and some other categories of water vessels must have a proper fire extinguisher on board.
  • All motorized watercraft and sailboats must display the necessary lights at an appropriate strength from sunset to sunrise, visible 360 degrees.
  • All motorized water vessels must have a suitable sound producing system on board to signal for help in the case of an emergency.
  • Boating under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is illegal throughout the United States. Drivers found to be operating a boat while intoxicated will face criminal penalties akin to driving a car while under the influence.

Boating License Fees

The total cost for a boating license must be confirmed with the managing state agency in the driver’s home state. Some states ask minimal boat card application fees, while others provide the service free of charge. In states where some form of boating course is required, boat operators can usually find both free and affordable options that average around $30 a course.

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Do You Sail a Motor Boat?

Brian Samson

August 30, 2022

Do You Sail a Motor Boat? | LakeWizard

This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Owning a motorboat can be loads of fun. But, when it comes to using it, do you sail a motor boat or drive it? Let’s find out.

Most boat owners are always torn with the lingo when using a sailboat and a motorboat. These two are different, which is crucial to note.

You don’t sail a motorboat, but you drive it. When you turn on the engine to get it to move, you drive it. Driving the motorboat moves you through the water as you also engage the throttle. You start to drive the motorboat and direct it using a steering wheel towards your destination.

A motorboat is great since it gives you lots of freedom in the river, lake or ocean. But, it’s important to get some training before you drive off. The basic training helps you even know more about the pre-departure checklist.

Sailing a boat involves relying on wind force to push and steer the boat towards a direction or destination. A sailboat should have sails that trap wind and move the boat.

Table of contents

‍ do you sail a motor boat.

A motorboat or a powerboat can serve as a recreational vessel or for fishing. Since it has a motor that powers it, you drive the motorboat and not sail it. However, when you turn off the motor and start to steer it, you sail the motorboat.

When you own a motorboat, you get to drive it. A motorboat is different from a sailboat that you sail. Motorboats rely on the engine and fuel to move you from point A to B. Unlike a sailboat, these are fast vessels that achieve top speeds depending on the size and engine capacity.

If you plan to drive a motorboat, get some training and go through the pre-departure checklist before driving off.

Motorboats differ greatly from sailboats, but they also share some similarities. This is how you can pick them apart and know if you drive or sail them. For instance, sailboats tend to be calm and drift on the water.

The calm nature ensures you achieve maximum relaxation while on the waters. However, it’s all about the engine and driving it from one spot to another for a powerboat. Motorboats are not calm at all..

Usually, you won’t find a sail on a motorboat. It purely relies on the engine to drive from spot to spot. Whether you’re going fishing or just hanging out in the water, you can choose the speed. There is nothing quiet about a motorboat, given the engine's roar if you turn it on.

How Do Motor Boats Differ from Sail Boats?

You have to rely on the engine to move when you get a motorboat. It differs from a sailboat that relies on wind energy or rowing to get from point A to B.

Learning the difference between the two can help you choose the right one.

Motorboats are expensive. You can look into a sailboat if you want a cheaper option. Motorboats' whole design and structure make them costly.

It’s even possible for a motorboat to cost twice as much as a sailboat of the same size.

Sail Boats have the right of way

You must observe some rules in the open waters when you own a boat. Among the top rules is that sailboats have the right of way. This might come as a surprise to many, but owning a motorboat means you have to wait.

However, there is an exception to this rule regarding sailing and motorboats. If a motorboat has challenges maneuvering because of its size, it can have the right of way. It’s the best way to ensure the boat doesn’t run into problems that can cause it to capsize.

Large motor boats in open channels can seek the right of way when sailboats are around. It also applies in narrow channels and if the vessel has some mechanical issues. It needs to get to land fast hence can go before sailboats.

Motor Boats are Fast

Motorboats tend to move fast in open waters because of the engine's power that the boat uses. If it has a diesel engine, it can go even faster and get to destinations within no time. The factor of speed is why many people love to drive motorboats.

But, the speed also puts you at greater risk, especially when driving at the top speed of the motorboat. Top speeds can make a motorboat unstable and prone to capsizing. As for sailboats, they move at a slower pace and are more stable on the water.

Given how heavy sailboats can be, this reduces their average speed on the water. However, motorboats are lighter and can easily glide across the channels.

How to Drive a Boat

After noting that you drive and not sail a motorboat, you can now learn how it’s done. Driving a motorboat can be an exhilarating experience across the open waters. But, before you drive off, you need several lessons to master how it’s done.

You must learn some basics to drive a motorboat safely.

Pre-departure Checklist

Every motorboat requires checking before you take off. It’s where the pre-departure checklist comes in handy. When going through the list, check out the following.

  • Life Jackets (at least one)
  • Sound-producing Devices (boat horn, portable horn, and a whistle)
  • Lights and Shapes
  • Distress Signals (flares, day-shapes)
  • Tools and Spares
  • Fuel and Oil
  • Fire Extinguishers

On top of these items, check the ventilation if the boat is enclosed and ensure the bilges are dry. Get to know the weather forecast before taking off and keep the radio on to get the latest forecast. Also, do some battery care and carry some spare batteries on board the motorboat.

After the checklist is complete, you can start the boat and take off.

Start the Boats

Most modern motorboats are simple to start. All you do is turn a key as you do in many vehicles. But, you have to note some safety features on the motorboat, such as the ‘kill switch.’ The engine safety cut-off appears as a small red knob next to the ignition.

The throttle is the next safety feature to observe before driving a motorboat. The throttle has to be neutral before you start the boat. It stops the boat from starting even with all other features on point until you move it.

The throttle releases the boat to start when you grasp it and pull back. Be aware of your surroundings since the boat will start to move as you do so.

Steer the Motor Boat

When the motorboat is in motion, you have to steer it, or you will move around aimlessly. Grasp the steering wheel, which resembles the one in cars.

When you turn the wheel, the motorboat will follow. But, this can be challenging if there are waves and lots of wind in the area.

Slowing a Motor Boat

Manipulating the throttle is one of the ways to get a boat to slow down. Motorboats don’t have brakes, unlike cars on the road. You have to learn how the boat operates and the stopping distance you need.

As you plan on stopping, ensure you are stable enough since boats don’t come with seat belts. Any sudden movement can topple you over, which you don’t want. Instead, be aware of your speed and how to slow down the boat safely.

With this information in mind, you can proceed to slow down your motorboat. Pull the throttle slowly back to neutral and pause for a moment. After that, shift it into reverse and apply some power. Pausing in neutral is crucial before going to reverse to avoid causing mechanical issues for the boat.

Most states need motorboat owners to take basic boating courses to learn how to drive motorboats. Doing so keeps you safe and everyone else driving or sailing in the same area. The training also takes you through steps like boat trimming and the different types of motorboats.

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Brian Samson

I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.

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Teen was driving 112 mph before crash that killed woman, 3 children in Washington state

motorboat driving

An 18-year-old driver has been arrested and charged with four counts of vehicular homicide in connection to a crash that killed a woman and three children in a Seattle suburb.

Chase Daniel Jones, 18, was booked in the King County Jail on Friday, and is being held on $1 million bail, according to the King County Correctional Facility records.  

According to charging documents reviewed by USA TODAY, prosecutors said witnesses saw Jones driving an Audi A4 at high speeds and weaving in and out of traffic before running a red light and T-boning another car in Fairwood, an unincorporated community about 20 miles southeast of Seattle. That impact resulted in that car hitting two other vehicles.

Jones was speeding at 112 mph at time of crash, officials said

The King County Sheriff's Office said deputies responded to 911 calls about a multi-vehicle crash around 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday.

Responding officers found four vehicles involved and four people were pronounced dead at the scene. Another three people had life-threatening injuries, and one patient had minor injuries, the sheriff's office said.

Police said the driver was one of those who were seriously injured and was being treated at Harborview Medical Center while under guard.

According to the charging documents, Jones was driving more than three times the speed limit at 112 mph when he hit Hudson's car.

Victims identified

Officials identified those who died in the crash as Andrea Hudson, 38, Boyd Brown, 12; Matilda Wilcoxson, 13; and Eloise Wilcoxson, 12. According to the Seattle Times, the three kids who were killed were the children of Hudson's close friends and were passengers in her car.

"Our condolences go out to the families who have been impacted by this unimaginable tragedy," the sheriff's office wrote in its news release.

According to the charging documents, two of Hudson’s children remained hospitalized in intensive care with severe injuries, including brain bleeds and broken bones, as of Friday.

Fatal crash marked third time teen had totaled car, reports say

Prosecutors called the incident an "incredibly violent collision."

This was the third car Jones had totaled in a crash due to speeding in less than a year, according to the charging documents.

Jones was booked into jail after he was released from the hospital on Friday and is currently awaiting trial, according to online jail records.

His arraignment is scheduled for April 4, local outlets reported.

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35-year-old man accused of motor vehicle homicide after driving drunk pleads not guilty.

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The latest breaking updates, delivered straight to your email inbox.

A man accused of driving drunk at the time of a deadly crash in Bennington pled not guilty.

Joshua Kuhl, 35, is charged with motor vehicle homicide for his role in the crash that killed 69-year-old Gary Smith in February.

Previous coverage : Man accused of motor vehicle homicide after driving drunk held on bond

Authorities said Kuhl was driving drunk in his truck when he allegedly failed to stop at a stop sign and hit a vehicle, killing one person and hurting three others.

According to an arrest warrant, Kuhl had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

Previous coverage : Deputies say suspect in deadly crash has past DUI convictions

Records show Kuhl had his license revoked for one year due to a DUI conviction in Douglas County.

Kuhl's bond was set at $1 million in February.

Click here for the latest headlines from KETV NewsWatch 7

motorboat driving

Corvette driver, 18, speeding 155 mph kills dad-of-two ex-cop riding Harley

A n 18-year-old Arizona woman allegedly driving a sports car at 155 mph slammed into a motorcycle carrying a former police officer — killing the dad of two, whom she tried to save with CPR.

Rachel Berg, 18, was speeding in her brand-new Chevy Corvette on a Mesa highway about 10:30 p.m. March 12 when she rear-ended a Harley-Davidson being ridden by Michael Clark, 46, a Tempe park ranger, AZ Family reported.

The former Tacoma, Washington, cop was thrown from his bike in the eastbound HOV lane of US 60, according to the outlet.

Berg pulled over and tried to perform CPR on the fallen biker but he died at the scene — then told police she couldn’t stop in time before ramming the Hog, AZ Family said.

Data from her car’s airbag control module reportedly indicated that she had been traveling at 155 mph five seconds before impact and 87 mph when she struck the bike after slamming on the brakes.

Berg was arrested Monday and charged with reckless manslaughter.

Clark’s wife, Laura, said she wants justice for her husband.

“He should’ve been home at 10:45 and I got out of bed at 11:15 and he wasn’t and I could hear the police helicopter. And I knew, I knew. I called him. He didn’t answer. I texted him, but he didn’t read it,” Laura told AZ Family.

“He was a man of service. He served his country and he served the community of Tacoma. He was serving Tempe,” she said about her husband of nine years, who became a park ranger six months ago after the couple moved to Mesa.

He was a police officer in Tacoma for 14 years before they sold their belongings in 2020 and bought an RV.

“He never met a stranger and he was so warm and welcoming. And our house was always the house for holidays. He loved to cook for people. He loved being a father. He loved being a father to his kids and he was an amazing husband,” Laura told the outlet.

She said that “young people sometimes think that they’re invincible. And don’t think their decisions through and it’s devastating.

“Families are torn apart. He has kids that now don’t have a dad,” Laura added. “The devastation is real and I don’t know how we will ever recover from it. I don’t know how we ever put one foot in front of the other again.”

Berg’s mother told the outlet that the tragedy also has been tough for her family.

Corvette driver, 18, speeding 155 mph kills dad-of-two ex-cop riding Harley


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