Boat Driving and Docking

Safe boating involves launching, docking, and navigating the waterways. Knowing the rules before you take the helm will make boating more enjoyable.

Mind Your Buoys

On the water, buoys are like floating road signs. The different colors tell you where to go and how to proceed.

Red buoys go by on the right side of the boat (starboard). Green buoys go by on the left (port). If you see those buoys across from each other, drive between them.

Black and white striped buoys mark the deepest part of the channel, meaning other parts aren’t as deep. Staying close to those is safest.

"No wake" buoys indicate an area where idling in forward gear is mandated. It’s not cool to come screaming up on a "no wake" buoy and slow down at such a rapid rate that you create a big wave that rocks nearby anchored or slow-going boats.

Danger buoys are usually white with an orange diamond outline, indicating rocks or shoals underwater. Steering away from those is smart.

Know the Right of Way

Boats vary in power and maneuverability. This creates certain right-of-way exceptions. For example, generally we drive on the water like we do on the road: driving on the right with oncoming traffic approaching on our left. But unlike cars, a faster boat overtaking a slower boat from behind must steer around the slower vessel.

When passing from behind, use your horn to indicate on which side you’ll pass: one toot for starboard/right, two for port/left. The safest practice is to wait for a return acknowledgement signal.

When approaching another boat at an angle, you should treat it like an unmarked intersection. If you’re on their port/left, steering out of their path is practiced. When coming from the starboard/right, they generally must yield.

Docking and Launching

Keep in mind that boats don’t drive like cars, and they don’t come to a complete stop. So it helps to start slowing down long before your end target. Approach the dock at a 30- to 45-degree angle and aim toward the center of where you want to land. At about one boat length from the dock, turn the wheel away from the pier and bump the motor into gear to swing the front/bow away from the dock and keep you floating toward it. Have the tie lines and fenders ready to deploy. Bump the boat into reverse to stop your movement when perpendicular. Then, tie up and deploy the fenders.

Beautiful days on the water are one dream we can all share. Review our general boating safety tips to learn more. And, make sure your boat is protected with the right coverage. Click here or call your American Family Insurance agent for more info.


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