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5 Skills You Need to Be a Competent Boat Skipper

5 Skills You Need to Be a Competent Boat Skipper

Boating is one of the most satisfying pastimes on the planet – having been enjoyed by countless generations of skippers. In order to safely captain a vessel, you’ll need to master some basic skills. Boating can be a rather dangerous activity, but if you keep your wits about you and diligently learn these skills, you’ll be safe and sound.

Basic Knot Tying

A good knowledge of knots is immeasurably useful on the water. Knots are used to secure sails, attaching fenders, and dock safely, among other things. If you are a motor boater, you won’t quite need the same level of knot expertise as a sailor, but you’ll still need to get aquatinted with the basics if you want to be considered safe and competent. Bowline, clove hitch, cleat hitch, and half hitch knots are some of the most widely used arrangements and will come in extremely handy.

Marine Navigation

Marine navigation can seem confusing at first, but it is absolutely essential that you are confident as a navigator if you want to set out to sea. Marine navigation involves the knowledge of specialist terminology, a sound understanding of compass use, and a fundamental understanding of the laws of the sea. Courses like the ones offered in Maryland by I Learn To Boat cover basic navigation as standard. Check out their online course options here:

Clear VHF Communication

VHF radio communication is the standard method of communication between boats and land-based authorities. Radio communication requires clear and concise language that adheres to various codes and etiquettes. Over the years, VHF language etiquette has developed into a highly efficient communicative mode, but it does get some getting used to for a beginner. Spending some time studying VHF language and keeping a laminated cheat sheet onboard your vessel is highly recommended. Harbormasters will not take kindly to vessels that communicate in a confusing way, as this can put other boat operators in danger.


Docking safely in all weather conditions is a real art form. It is always best to approach a dock against the current. If you are in a sailing vessel, then approaching so that you can face into the wind is also necessary. Never approach a docking point faster than you would be comfortable hitting it, and never allow people to try and slow down a boat with their bodies. Scratching your boat is far less damaging than trapping your leg between your vessel and a pontoon.

How to Deal With Commercial Traffic

For a novice skipper making their way into a shipping lane for the first time, commercial traffic can be absolutely terrifying. Large ships have limited visibility and create huge amounts of wake that can quite literally capsize a vessel. Clear communication with surrounding vessels is extremely important, as is staying in your comfort zone. Commercial vessels have a right to transit in shipping lanes and don’t have the maneuverability to avoid small boats – that is your responsibility.  

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