If you love life on the water but have never driven a boat before, the thought of getting into boating may be intimidating. But is it hard to drive a boat?
As a passenger, spending time on the water is a great way to have a fun and relaxing day of swimming and soaking up the sun. But as the driver, you’ll have more responsibility than everyone else. If you’re thinking of buying a boat for the first time, learning to drive a completely new vehicle may be daunting enough to make you reconsider.
Though in truth, driving a boat is quite easy, especially if your boat is on the smaller side. However, boats are much more complicated than cars, so though simply driving the boat may be quite easy, things like docking and berthing safely are much more difficult and will require practice.
There are plenty of things to consider when thinking about how hard it is to drive a boat, one of which is space. Driving a boat around with lots of open space and nothing to run into is about as easy as it gets. The less space you have, the harder it becomes to maneuver properly. This is why docking a boat is a lot more difficult. Size is also a huge factor as bigger boats become vastly more complicated than the average car, and you’ll have to pay attention to complicated systems like sonar and gps that you probably haven’t interacted with much beforehand.
Though it may be intimidating, the thought of learning to drive a boat should never deter you from buying your dream boat. Though I got into boating when I was quite young and have been the captain of my own charter boat for almost 20 years, there's no doubt that if I can do it, anyone can.
Are Some Boats Harder To Drive Than Others?
Though for the purpose of this article, I will be concentrating mostly on smaller boats, like speed boats, operated on fresh bodies of water like lakes and rivers, I think it's important to discuss some of the things that can affect how hard a boat is to drive.
Operating these smaller kinds of boats on calm, fresh water is really quite easy. There isn’t much extra you’ll have to pay attention to besides the throttle and steering. There’s no need to be scared of operating boats like these for the first time, as after a few minutes of driving, you’ll feel quite comfortable, even if you need a bit of practice docking it again.
Larger pleasure yachts, on the other hand, can be a lot more difficult to operate, especially if you’re on the sea. Not only are these boats much bigger, but they are vastly more complicated. You’ll have to steer and control the throttle, but you’ll also have to pay attention to complicated electronic systems that provide important navigation information like location and water depth.
Ocean currents can make it quite difficult to moor your boat as well, especially for newbies, and pulling your yacht into the harbor and docking it gets more difficult the bigger the boat is. Overall, planning to pilot you’re own large yacht before you’ve gotten at least a bit of experience on something smaller may not be the best idea.
I also wanted to mention sailing before moving on, as sailing a sailboat is completely different than driving one with a motor. They require vastly different skills, and sailboats need almost constant physical involvement to operate properly. You will need someone to teach you the basics of sailing if you want to go down this route, whereas you’ll more than likely be just fine learning to drive a small motor boat without much direction.
How To Drive A Boat
If you are going to learn how to drive a speed boat, there are really only two main things you’ll need to pay attention to. Those things are the throttle and the steering wheel.
Steering A Boat
Luckily, the steering wheel will be very familiar to you as it's much the same as any normal car. Turning the wheel in the direction that you want to go will cause the boat to turn in that same direction. However, it is important to note that the responsiveness of the steering on a boat can be a lot different than that of a car.
Things like wind, water current, and wake can affect the way the boat handles, so different water conditions can make it much harder to steer. This can be particularly frustrating when trying to dock your boat, already one of the hardest things to perfect, as differing water conditions can cause your boat not to steer as expected.
In the end, more experience will allow you to become more comfortable with the handling of your boat so that you can better predict and control how it will react when steering.
Unlike the steering wheel, the way you accelerate and decelerate a boat may be a bit foreign for the average car driver. Unlike a car’s separate pedals dedicated to the acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle, a boat's speed is controlled by a singular control, the throttle.
The throttle is a lever that can be pushed forward and backward. Pushing the throttle forward will cause the boat to accelerate, and pulling it backward will cause the boat to decelerate and move in reverse. Leaving the throttle at the middle position will keep the boat stationary, not counting the forces of wind and current.
Like before, you should not expect the throttle to act the same way as in a car. Besides being one control, boats don’t really have breaks like you might be used to in a car. Moving the throttle into reverse and actively decelerating will cause the boat to slow down faster, but you should immediately make it a point to see how much distance is needed for your boat to come to a complete stop at different speeds. Boats also experience a lot more movement than cars do, so be careful not to make sudden changes to speed and direction as it may throw one of your passengers off balance.
About THE AUTHOR
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.Read More About Brian Samson