10 Boating Mistakes to Avoid

I’ve made every single mistake on this list. Hopefully you can avoid a few of them!

#1 Not closing hatches

Of course this goes without saying, and yet it happens. Don’t forget to close your hatches; all of them! I’ve drowned a perfectly good phone and soaked a cabin by inadvertently leaving hatches open. Don’t leave home without checking.

#2 Not securing halyards

Halyards left to their own devices will do one of two things, neither good. First, the halyard snags on a high, inconvenient place, such as your tallest mast spreader - a place accessible only in the bosun’s chair. Second, it chafes against something hard or sharp, and starts to fray. Or, if you're really unlucky, it does both! Ensure halyards are pulled away from the mast when not in use.

#3 Not securing your dinghy

You only make this mistake once, since losing a dinghy ranges from embarrassing to dangerous. For example, my painter frayed and the dinghy drifted away in the middle of the night. I was lucky though. Instead of floating out to sea, it washed up on shore. Nevertheless I had a long swim the next day to retrieve it.

#4 Not securing your anchor

Winching up the anchor is not enough. Make sure it is securely shackled too, otherwise your anchor will likely drop when you least expect it. At best, you’ll have an unwanted sea anchor. At worst, it you’ll have an unwanted hole in your hull.

#5 Not going forward when towing

This seems obvious and yet it happens, usually when anchoring. Towing a trailer behind your car in reverse works. Towing a dinghy behind your boat in reverse does not! There’s an excellent chance that the dinghy’s painter will end up fouling your prop.

#6 Not letting out enough anchor rode

The saying “when it doubt, let it out” commonly refers to sail sheets, but it is equally true of anchor rode. The #1 reason boats drift at anchor is simply not letting out enough rode. Unless you’re in tight quarters, let it out!

#7 Not pulling in fishing gear

Fishing from a boat is one of life’s little pleasures. Just remember to pull in the gear before you start or stop moving your vessel. Retrieving anchors with fishing lines still in the water is recipe for fouled props. I've starting leaving myself a Post-It note to remind myself gear is in the water, but any mnemonic will suffice.

#8 Not reefing in time

The very best time to reef is before you head out. The second-best time is well before conditions deteriorate. The worst time is when it already gusting to 30 knots, the seas are 3 m (10') and Olympic trampolinist skills are required just to move around on deck.

#9 Not replacing worn parts

It’s amazing how much damage a teeny, weeny, inexpensive part can cause. Check those cotter/split pins, split rings, etc. and replace them before they cause expensive damage. Remember, “a stitch in time, saves nine”.
The bent cotter pin (split pin) that sliced a spinnaker.

#10 Not having a backup

Wind from an unexpected direction? Storm on the horizon? Chart plotter on the blink? Sail torn? Having a backup simply means having a contingency plan, spares or alternatives to deal with the various emergencies you will encounter. It can be the difference between fun and misery. So keep lots of spares, repair materials and up-to-date paper charts on board, and stay flexible when it comes to your float plan.

I hope these help. Please share your mistakes too, so others can learn.


Art by Vela Noble