Boating for Beginners: How to Start Boating
America’s waterways have more beginner boaters than ever before! Since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many people have discovered boating as their new hobby, and more just keep coming. Most recently, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reported that first-time boat buyers accounted for a whopping 34 percent of all boat sales in 2021.
It’s a bad idea to just hop onto a boat and go—because boating for beginners is a lot like driving an automobile for beginners— you need to learn the rules of the road and spend some time at the helm with a guide you trust. Skipping these steps is a horrible idea that could lead one to end up stranded, calling for help on the water— yikes!
The good news is that quite a few organizations focus on boating for beginners in their educational offerings. Boatsetter Academy, for instance, is a free, hands-on, on-water beginner’s boating class dedicated to teaching new boaters about the basics of operating a boat. This is a two-hour course where students are often taking the wheel of a boat for the first time, offered in major cities nationwide.
READ MORE: Boatsetter Launches Boatsetter Academy
More formal training—the type that can satisfy state-mandated boater education requirements if you’re in a state with them—is available through other organizations. Boat Ed is a hub for boater education classes recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard and approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and state-government agencies. These classes are smart ways to start boating, even if you live in a state that doesn’t require them. You will learn not only what you’re supposed to be doing out on the water but also techniques for avoiding boaters doing the wrong things.
Another good resource when thinking about boating for beginners is America’s Boating Course, which is sponsored by the U.S. Power Squadrons. This class can be completed in a classroom, on the internet, or via home study. It’s a beginner boating class intended to help students get a boat license or safety certification in many states—and is a great foundation for anyone who wants to move on to higher-level boating classes that the same organization offers.
Knowing how to start boating doesn’t end with basic education and training. You also need to make sure you have all local- and state-required licenses and registrations, which are different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Check with your local regulatory agencies for the details about what you’ll need.
READ MORE: How to Get a Boating License
And, boating for beginners also includes getting to know the boat and everything on it. Make sure you know how to put on a life jacket. Spend some time learning the features of any helm electronics—especially if you plan to rely on them for navigation purposes. Learn how to access reliable weather forecasts from marine-specific apps and VHF radio announcements. Here’s a Pro Tip: the 5 o’clock news is not your best source of marine-weather information.
When thinking about how to start boating, consider what you’ll need to be comfortable all day on the boat. Do you have the right clothing for sun and water? How about sunscreen and good-quality, polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes? Will you pack a first aid kit? Is it a marine-specific kit that contains what you’ll need for, say, a jellyfish sting or a scrape with coral while snorkeling? Do you know what a float plan is, and have you made one so friends or relatives will know to send help if you don’t return to shore in a timely manner?
READ MORE: What to Wear on a Sailing Trip
Boating for beginners can be challenging for all the same reasons that other beginner skills can be challenging: You simply don’t know what you don’t know. Boater education courses will fill in a lot of those gaps as you think about how to start boating in a smart and safe way—which is the best way to start boating for beginners.
Boatsetter is a unique boat-sharing platform that gives everyone — whether you own a boat or you’re just renting — the chance to experience life on the water. You can list a boat, book a boat, or make money as a captain.
Kim Kavin has been on boats in more than 50 countries and islands, including in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. She grew up learning to steer a ski boat and Hobie Holder at her grandfather’s lake house in New Jersey, and went on to spend time aboard everything from America’s Cup racing sailboats to submarines.
Kim is a PADI-certified scuba diver and animal lover who always enjoys a good, long look around a coral reef. Her award-winning writing and editing regularly appears in national marine magazines and on leading websites. In her early years, she was a Dow Jones editing intern and a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. When she’s not writing, Kim can usually be found hiking northwest New Jersey’s beautiful park trails with her adopted shelter mutt, Ginger.