Five Boating Basics to Keep Things Simple on Your Solo

Elizabeth Jolin- Island Jane Magazine
Photo credit Lisa Giles

The Chapman Book of Seamanship and Piloting has been decorating my bookshelf for 20 years. I dust it. I use it for craft projects like flower pressing. It’s a great booster seat for little visitors. I have NEVER loaned it to anyone who wants to learn to boat and I cannot remember the last time I referred to it.

While this book really is the Bible of seamanship, and literally covers EVERY single boating scenario you can imagine, it is information overload when you just want to take control of the helm to boat locally for weekend fun.

Let Mr. Chapman and his editors NEVER read this article, but I know I will never get off the dock unless I simplify the learning curve. I say, master these five basics and head to the sandbar!

Learn to Read a Chart Very few people use real paper charts anymore since the GPS is so easy to use and understand. But a GPS has a way of disconnecting you from retaining any real sense of how you got to your destination OR how to return home if your electronics fail. Using a chart will force you to relate to your compass, learn to judge distance, increase your prudence, and will definitely boost your confidence at the helm.

Learn to Tie a Few Knots Don’t go crazy – just learn to tie a few solid knots that work. If you can successfully get yourself from point A to point B but can’t keep your boat on the dock, that trip can quickly head south. Learn to cleat and learn to tie a bowline and you will have no problems. The old right over left, and left over right just won’t cut it when you’re on the water.

Know Your Boat Do a once over, top to bottom and bow to stern, on your boat before you solo. Lift every hatch, check out every compartment, flip every switch. Get comfortable with the systems on your vessel. Make sure you have the required and desired safety gear. Know how your electronics work, and last but not least, know whether your fuel gauge works or not.

Learn Your Local Waters Presumably you won’t plan an around-the-world adventure on your first solo ride. Get out your chart and plan a trip close to home for your solo maiden voyage. Plan a longer excursion next time and increase the complications incrementally from there. The success will build on itself.

Learn to Anchor This is easy. Figure out where the wind is coming from, drop the anchor, set it, let out scope and cleat it off. Anchors are the “brakes” on a boat. Almost all boating issues can be solved when you put your anchor down, breathe deeply and put your mind to it.

Take it easy and play it safe this spring and summer on the water!

Captain Elizabeth Jolin owns She’s at Sea, a Boat Handling Course for Women. She has been chartering and teaching women to boat in Islamorada for the past 20 years. Contact her at to comment, ask boating questions or to suggest article topics. She would love to hear from you.

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