Are you planning for an extended boat outing such as a long weekend, a Boston Whaler rendezvous or a two-week summer vacation? Here are some best boat travel tips for vacationing on your boat.
Prepare the boat
Your Boston Whaler needs to be ready to make the trip so run through a checklist of key items. Make sure the navigation (and interior/onboard) lights work. Clean strainers and depth/sonar transducers and review your onboard spares and toolkit. Check that your VHF radio and GPS chartplotter (and perhaps radar) are working. Charge the batteries, make sure the bilges are dry, check the engine(s) and top up fluids including oil, coolant, and fuel. Have systems and engines serviced if it’s time. “If you have an upcoming service, schedule it before departure and remember, dealers are busy so plan well ahead,” says Captain Will Rogers, Boston Whaler’s Director of Large Boat Sales. “Changing oil or impellers is a great way to protect your vacation and your boat investment.
Scan the items in your safety kit including flares, signaling devices, and fire extinguishers for expiration dates, and make sure you have the proper number and size of lifejackets for everyone who’ll be aboard. Refresh the supplies in your first aid kit and test your anchoring system. “Preparation is priceless so make sure your safety kit is up-to-date and accessible,” adds Rogers.
Plan the route
As with any vacation, plan where you’ll go, how you’ll get there and how long you’ll stay. Route planning is even more important in boating because there are more variables to consider.
Map out the route for the entire trip and create waypoints to input into your chartplotter. Break up the trip into segments or legs that will allow you to travel mostly during the day or be prepared to transit in the dark. Map out any pump-out stations and fuel docks. While you’re at it, estimate how much fuel you’ll need based on your fuel consumption at any given speed and the amount of fuel you carry. This will give you an idea of where to refuel and how much this part of the vacation will cost.
Examine the route between waypoints and look for navigation issues such as bridges and locks that may have specific and limited opening times. Look for boat ramps and marinas. Check for no-wake zones and the speed you’ll be able to go while in them. Slow navigation areas may affect how long certain legs of your journey will take and whether you’ll arrive during daylight.
Check tides and currents in the area and depths where you plan to dock or anchor. Make reservations at marinas or dockside restaurants and check that your on-water towing assistance membership and vessel insurance are current.
The US Coast Guard provides information to mariners on important navigation topics and they compile it weekly by district in what’s called the Local Notice to Mariners. You can download a PDF of your area to learn about shoaling, navigation lights that may not be working and buoys that may be off station.
File a float plan and check the weather
Share your itinerary with someone who can check on you or alert authorities if you don’t arrive on schedule. A float plan doesn’t have to be formal. Just tell someone where you’re going, with whom, how long you plan to be (on each leg and the overall trip) and then be sure to check in with this party as agreed. You can also file a float plan with an on-water assistance agency like BoatUS that has a downloadable form.
Check the weather forecast for the duration and then for each day that you have on your itinerary. Have a plan for weather updates along the route and an itinerary backup plan the weather deteriorates. If you’ll be in good cell phone coverage, you’ll be able to receive weather via an app. If not, you may be able to get a local forecast via the VHF radio or shore-based facilities.
Ready yourself and your provisions
Pack appropriate clothing and necessities including hats, extra prescription glasses, sunscreen, bug spray, jackets, raingear, personal medications, and extra footwear. Pack some towels, bedding and blankets in case it gets cold at night. “Bring a mask and snorkel,” says Rogers. “They’re great if you have to check on the propeller or the bottom of the boat.”
Create a meal plan taking into account your galley setup and the number of people aboard. Even if you plan to eat at a restaurant each day, you’ll need food, beverages and snacks aboard. Try preparing food ahead of time and freezing it for a quick reheat once aboard. Be prepared to carefully stow all that you bring aboard and toss any extra packaging to save room. Map out places to reprovision along the way and always have plenty of drinking water.
Boating safely on vacation means diligent preparation in advance. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. Just break down the steps, make checklists, schedule service and soon you’ll be enjoying a boating vacation like no other.