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Boat Rentals: A Beginner's Guide

BY: Sarah Gorr | Apr 28, 2017

Warm summer days make the glistening, blue waters of your nearest lake or ocean seem all the more tempting, especially as sailboats, yachts, and speedboats start dotting the horizon. Instead of dropping thousands of dollars on a boat yourself or continuing your quest to befriend anyone wearing boat shoes just in case, boat rentals are your answer. But in some ways, renting a boat might seem almost more intimidating than buying one because how can you learn how to drive a boat if you don't, you know, have one? Is it really safe to just get out on the water? What else could you be forgetting and where can you buy a tiny sailor cap? Thankfully, we've got the answers.

On Board

Tips on how to drive a boat

Specifics are bound to vary a bit with boat rentals, whether you're looking at speedboats or pontoon boats. Thankfully, there are a few pointers you can lean on in just about every instance:

  1. Consider taking a safety course before booking your rental, which will boost your confidence if boating is a sporadic activity for you.
  2. Hit the gas in bursts in order to maintain better control of the boat, especially when navigating a marina or crowded waters.
  3. Plan your moves in advance! Unlike cars, boats weren't meant for sudden, sharp turns, so always make sure you've got a rough idea of where you need to go in mind.
  4. Just like any vehicle, don't drink and drive—not only isn't it safe, but it is illegal.
  5. Apply power slowly; again, this will help you maintain control.
  6. When looking for a spot to anchor, make sure you're away from other boats, strong winds, and currents.
  7. Still not feeling confident? Consider hiring a captain and let a professional handle it all for you.

Pro tip: Sites like Boat-Ed.com offer a host of online boating courses, all sorted by state.

Refine your packing list

Boats are typically pretty short on storage space so it's vital to make sure you don't over pack if you want your guests to have a comfortable ride. No one wants to sacrifice leg room for unnecessary junk. That said, you don't want to forget the essentials, either. Always make sure you have extra water, plenty of nonperishable snacks, towels, and layering pieces as it can get chilly on the water.

Staying Safe on the Water

Know your body of water

Obviously, you'll face different challenges with different bodies of water. On rivers, it's important to keep and eye out for debris and obstructions while avoiding the shallows. On lakes, you might see an increase in boat traffic since boaters will have less room to spread out. Oceans provide the most obstacles, though, particularly the farther you away from the shore: large wind waves, storm patterns, and if you go really far, loss of cell service can all present an array of obstacles. None of this means you need to avoid one or the other, though. Just make sure you familiarize yourself with the water's habits by talking to other boaters or your rental shop before leaving the dock.

Make a float plan

Don't worry, it's not as complicated as it sounds! This just means making a detailed account of what boat you're renting, when you're setting sail and to where, and when you expect to dock. You'll want to include phone numbers, names, and addresses, too. Yes, it seems silly, but it only takes a few minutes to do and could be incredibly helpful if something happens while you're out. No, it probably won't be a dramatic LOST-type situation, but if your vehicle breaks down or someone in your group gets injured, it's good for someone on shore to know how to reach you!