How to Drive a Boat

How do you properly drive a boat?

In this article, we teach you the basics of driving a boat and help you be aware of some navigational signs to know if you’re on safe waters or not.

Always Wear Your PFD

woman jumping towards water wearing life vest

A PFD stands for Personal Flotation Device or life jacket that lets you remain on the water’s surface which is very important, whether you know how to swim or not. Don’t forget to attach your kill switch to your PFD because it prevents your boat from continuously running the moment you’re out of it.

There are five primary life jacket labels; 50, 70, 100, 150, and 275. The number and image indicate the level of safety that every label offers based on different situations, with 70 being the standard as recognized by US Coast Guards. On the other hand, 275 has the highest flotation capacity as depicted by turbulent waters and invisible shoreline in the background.

Avoid Running High Speeds in Shallow Water

Running high speeds in shallow water usually less than three feet increases the risk of accidentally bumping into something. If you’re a newbie at driving a boat, it’s best that you trim the motor up and get a good layout of your coastal area with a map.

Get Your Boat up on Plane

Getting your boat up on plane means the back half of your boat is slightly raised on water to give it an even, steady starting speed. Carefully push the trim switch a little for a small increase in speed.

Once your boat produces a porpoising or flapping motion, you can throttle down until the motion subsides and is replaced by a stable movement.

Ride Over the Rolling Waves

The rule here is simple – when a rolling wave meets your boat, you have to let off or glide over it and then increase your throttle so you can go down to the calm side of the water’s surface. Just stay close to your throttle switch to keep yourself in control of your boat, when the situation calls for it.

Move Past the Trough Carefully

A wave trough is the lowest part of a wave that you’ll usually encounter when your boat almost comes to a stop or when you’re near the calmer side of the water. It won’t hurt you or throw you off but it can get you drenched so the technique is to slow down to avoid getting too much amount of water splashed on you.

Stay Consistent in Driving Through Turbulent Waves

When the weather is a bit bad, the turbulent waves can measure up to three feet or higher which can hit your boat with a large force. What you do here is you take your time and don’t go on full speed. Instead, you trim up or tilt your boat’s bow up in such a way that 1/3 of its portion will act as your shield against the waves. Then, keep moving forward. Simultaneously switch in between these strategies until you get back to safety.

More info about this matter on Flukemaster’s Channel.

Some Rules on Boating Etiquette

Boating etiquette is the way you handle your boat in the presence of fellow boaters. In other words, it says a lot about your navigational manners. Getting to know what some of these are will help you prevent conflicts with others.

Never Set up Your Boat in the Business Area Before the Main Ramp

As the area itself suggests – it’s a lane that’s designated for trading, purchasing, etc. If you settle here and do the needed preparation, you’ll end up blocking the path to the boat ramp and disrupting important activities.

However, if you need to stay in such a place, make sure that you’re only about to do two things; either you’re launching your boat on the water or you’re pulling out your boat to wrap things up.

Be Mindful of Your Boat’s Wake

A boat’s wake means the trail that your boat leaves behind as you pass the water’s surface. It’s the area where splashes of water are visible which can start from moderate ripples to huge waves.

When you’re nearing the dock or approaching someone who’s fishing, it’s basic courtesy to slow down because there’s a chance you can accidentally soak someone. Just try to see yourself in others’ shoes as this can be very insulting.

Check out this topic on 5 Keys to Good Boating Etiquette via Informed Outdoors’ Channel.

Turn Right When Meeting Another Boat

You know how the reminder goes “keep right” whether you’re walking a corridor or climbing the stairs? The same rule applies to boats. Only this time, you need to rely on the boats’ signals on either side – green for starboard (right) and red for port (left). Obviously, this prevents boat collision.

In case you’ll have a hard time understanding it, just remember the statement, “There’s no red port left in the wine.” This means your boats must be facing port-to-port during the turn.

What are Buoys and Markers?

When navigating on a body of water, you may have noticed strange signs that are scattered on the surface with colors and numbers.

They’re called buoys and markers which serve as safety symbols on certain areas of waterways like seas and rivers. In fact, they also act as a guide, so you don’t lose your way when either going out or going into territorial waters.

Generally speaking, when you see them on each side, just stay in between and make an adequate leeway for passing boats.

Buoy Colors

  • Red – stands for Red Right Return (upstream), meaning you use the red signs to find your way back to your home port.
  • Green – stands for Green Left Move Away (downstream), meaning you use the green signs to travel to open waters.

Buoy Shapes and Numbers

The shapes of the markers are meant for distinction, some people can’t clearly tell the difference between colors like red and green, more so if they’re under a storm. So for safety reasons, the green markers take the shape of a square and those in red take the shape of a triangle. As for the numbers, they’re only used to verify the markings of your coast guard – even number, increasing for red, and odd number, decreasing for green.

Visit Salt Strong Channel for the complete details.


Learning how to drive a boat isn’t just about properly navigating around water channels. It’s also about fostering respect to fellow boaters and discipline in following maritime rules to stay out of harm’s way. Share us your experiences by commenting below.

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