Boating Safety – Utah Lakes & Reservoirs
Responsibility of a Boat Owner and Dad

Submitted by Tim Harper

The most satisfying part of owning a boat is watching others have fun being pulled behind it. Teaching that safety and fun go hand in hand is a responsibility we all have. If our children, friends, and neighbors are careful boaters, then many years of enjoyment will follow for everyone.

Last Saturday, my daughter Anna, age 13, invited six other friends along for a day of fun on the water. This was a big job. Dad got elected, persuaded, and schmoozed into it. I had to be careful not to let on that I enjoyed every minute. We had a great time, skiing, teaching new skills, wakeboarding, and tubing. This is the real fun of owning a boat, watching others learn to have fun too. I have always felt that it is important to invite new and different folks along, especially those who might not otherwise have access to a boat.

After nearly seven hours on the water, the sunburned teens were finally wearing down. Though I had kept the sun at bay by using plenty of sunscreen, I had run out of voice and energy long before. Well away from other boaters, I asked who wanted to learn how to drive. The guys were quick to accept the offer and the girls thought it would be fun too. These were teenagers after all– offering the keys and a chance to “drive” is the sort of thing that might cause arguments over who would be first.

I had each of the kids sit in the driver seat and operate the boat. We went through a short explanation of how to operate the throttle and wheel. Something like: it steers like a car, turn left it goes left. Lift the neutral lock lever up to put it in gear. Push to here so the gears do not grind when shifting. Push more to go faster, and pull back to slow down or stop. Reverse is the other way. Oh yeah, there is no white line/stripe so its really important to watch out for other boats and stuff like shorelines, logs, docks, and swimmers.

There were concerned looks when I started talking. They had not agreed to a lecture, so I stopped after 50 seconds and got the first kid in the driver’s seat. I figured it was important to keep it fun.

The driving assignment or test was to pull a pretend skier out of the water, keep a straight course, pull back to a stop, start again with an slow wakeboard style pull, and then recover the life jacket I threw out during the wakeboard pull. Pretty straightforward stuff, right?

Kids naturally like to go fast, but the slow-going life jacket recovery was the most fun. The rules: bring the boat around on driver side, keeping the jacket always in sight, idle to a stop beside the “downed skier”, and no swimming to retrieve the PFD.

Kids can be pretty competitive. It was clear from the outset that they were each gauging their friends’ performance carefully. Comments were surprisingly positive, probably due to the fact that the commentor might mess up even worse on his/her turn. Anna was the most experienced driver, yet she ran over the “skier”. Others had longer turns because it took multiple passes to get the life jacket out of the water. I made a point of loudly complimenting those that came in slow and/or gave themselves too much room causing a go-around. This is the safe way to attack an unfamiliar boat driving task, slow and with some extra space. We threw in some pointers along the way like: in reverse, steer to the side where you want to go and it’s the back of the boat that moves when you turn, not the front, like in a car.

ALWAYS TURN OFF THE MOTOR when getting in/out. We always make sure everyone is sitting down before hitting it. The boat driver is responsible for verifying that crew/spectators are seated and the skier is safely clear. As the driver, you don’t trust anyone that says “OK” instead you LOOK AND SEE FOR YOURSELF. End of story.

After everyone had their driving turn, there were seven volunteers to drive us back to the ramp.

Saturday’s ski trip was a great one. Anna and her friends had all the excitement they could handle. Even old dad enjoyed himself and kept his preaching in check. You have probably never heard so many “thank you’s” both at the launch ramp and back at home dropping the young folks off.

You might say I’m on a crusade here, but I try to do appropriate driver training with our invited adult guests too. Maybe they will consider owning a boat someday if they have had a chance to drive and have confidence that they can do it safely. In my conversations with non-boaters, inexperience seems to be a big deterrent. It’s likely that kids will buy boats, when they grow up, if they have had a chance to experience the fun. I have owned several boats because I want my children to have the same fun I did when I was young.


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Categories: Safety

One Response

  1. Georgene Line says:

    Finaces are not so easy…

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