How To Drive A Boat

Posted on: June 3, 2021

Okay, you did it! You read our blog about what’s the Best Boat for a First-Time Boat Buyer, you contacted our expert staff, you pulled the trigger and bought the perfect boat for you. Now you just have one more thing before you’re out in the sun creating memories to last a lifetime -- You don’t know how to drive a boat.

No worries, friend -- we got you!  In this blog, we will show you:    

  • How to start a boat
  • How to steer a boat
  • How to slow down a boat
  • And we’ll answer a few frequently asked questions

So, with that, let’s get started by, well, starting…

First, before we get into anything -- whatever and wherever your body of water is, it will more than likely have its own rules and regulations. Please make sure you do your due diligence and find whatever is required of you to operate your vessel. 

How to Start a Boat

While starting a boat is as simple as turning a key; unlike a car, there are a few other factors you need to take into account.

First, assuming your boat runs on gasoline and possesses an engine compartment -- you’ll need to run your blower, per the manufacturer’s instructions.  This helps assure there isn’t any buildup of fumes within the compartment. Check with your boat dealer for more information.

Next, you put the key in the ignition and check the emergency cutoff or “kill switch.”  This is typically located right next to the ignition. You want to make sure this is turned off or the boat won’t start. However, be sure to clip the lanyard attached to the kill switch to your life jacket. If anything were to happen to you while driving, the emergency cutoff would kill the engine.

Lastly, you have to make sure the throttle is in the right position -- which is neutral. Again, like our friend the cutoff switch, if it’s not in the proper position, your boat won’t start. Familiarize yourself with the throttle. The throttle is your power, your gas pedal. Tuck that away for later, though, because right now, let’s talk steering. 

How to Steer a Boat

Remember in the movie Dodgeball when Patches O’Houlihan threw a wrench at his team of rejects saying, “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”? Well, if you can steer a car, you can steer a boat.

However, unlike a car, your steering a vessel on a moving surface. This surface also creates these things called waves. And these waves will vary in size, speed, and direction. Keep calm, and keep patient. You’re steering a large, heavy machine. So moving on these unpredictable impediments will take a second. 

Speaking of patience, without question the number one issue you’ll have with steering a boat is contending with other boaters. For example, say you’re on a smaller body of water, such as a lake, and that lake is excessively busy -- not only will you need to be fully aware of both your and their moves, you’ll also have to contend with a few more of your friends we mentioned earlier -- waves. But just like learning how to drive your dad’s sedan -- it will take time, patience, and practice.

And we can help too. Contact Woodard Marine and we can definitely steer you in the right direction...See what we did there?

Anyway, now that we’ve got starting and steering done, let’s talk about slowing down. 

How to Slow Down a Boat

To slow down a boat is much more than just tapping the brakes.  Especially since boats don’t have them -- brakes.  Remember earlier when we discussed the throttle? Well, the throttle plays a key role in slowing down as you must grasp the throttle and pull it back. You come to learn over time that manipulating the throttle will assist you in a variety of circumstances and situations as you drive. For example, approaching another boat’s wake or an oncoming wave.

Ultimately though, it will come down to you and your boat. After some experience with it, you will discover your stopping distance at different speeds.

However, if you’re in a situation where an abrupt stop is needed, you will simply --

  • Kick the boat into neutral
  • Wait for a beat
  • Then throw it into reverse


Be sure to announce all changes in speed to your passengers. Remember, there are no seatbelts, just life jackets. And they will definitely be needed if you make an abrupt stop without fair warning.

FAQ

What is the best boat for a beginner?

There is no perfect answer for this as it depends on a variety of factors (What type of water will it be on? What will it be used for? How much experience do you have with boats? Etc). So we suggest you check the blog we mentioned earlier,  Best Boat for a First-Time Buyer. Then, contact our expert staff at Woodard Marine, and let them help you figure out what boat is best for YOU. 

What is the easiest boat to drive?

Let’s get this out of the way -- driving a boat should never be easy. You need to not only be fully aware of what’s going on inside of the boat but also what’s happening all around you outside of the boat.  With that, driving a boat is never easy, you just get better at it.

Is it difficult to drive a boat?

As mentioned before, there are different factors at play when it comes to driving a boat than driving a car. Meaning, it’s a matter of comfort. And like anything in life, the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll be.

Is it hard to drive a boat in the ocean?

Again, it depends on a variety of factors. If there are a lot of people boating on a small lake, it can be significantly more difficult than floating on a calm day in the middle of the Pacific. However, if you’re in the middle of the ocean and the weather drastically changes - you’ll be dreaming of a busy day on the local pond. 

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