Table of contents
- How to Plan Your Boating Adventure
- Finding the Best Boating Destinations
- The Best Seasons for a Boating Adventure
- Things to Bring on Your Boating Adventure Trip
- How to Maintain Your Vessel
- Safety First!
- 12 Fun Activities on Your Next Boating Adventure
A new world awaits you when you set out into the water, whether you’re onboard a sailboat, powerboat, catamaran, or canoe. Recreational boating gives you a chance to get away and embark on an adventure you wouldn’t typically find on land.
There’s always something for everybody, from families and friends who enjoy outdoor activities, water sports, and festivities, to individuals and couples who love the relaxing atmosphere of calm waters.
And you don’t even have to own a superyacht to go on a leisurely trip. Today, there are many options for boating enthusiasts who want to explore using different types of vessels.
All it takes is great planning of where and when you want to go and what activities and safety precautions you have to gear up for.
How to Plan Your Boating Adventure
Whether you are looking to sail away for a few days or just jet off on a speedboat for a few hours, preparing a trip plan and having supplies and equipment ready are crucial to your journey—yes, even if it’s just for recreation. Here are a few guidelines to help you prepare:
Finding the Best Boating Destinations
You will need to assess whether the destination is within your cruising range and what the boating regulations are within that area. For example, some places require boats to travel slowly while others are open to faster vessels.
Apart from knowing the restrictions, it’s also crucial for you and your skipper to estimate whether your boat’s fuel capacity is sufficient to cover your travel distance and the speed of your vessel.
Once you’ve pinpointed your destination, check whether the location has a dock suitable to your vessel, along with a few establishments where you can restock on food, water, medical supplies, and fuel. You can also use this time on land to unwind and explore new places and meet the locals.
And just as there are different boats for different folks, so is every boating destination unique. It all comes down to the season and activities you’ve planned. In the US, city harbors and lakeside towns offer activities for everybody, as seen in these popular boating destinations:
Who doesn’t love the timeless beauty of this New England community? Boating is an integral part of Martha’s Vineyard’s culture and heritage. Even with the quiet charm of the beach, the place offers a wide range of water sports, from windsurfing to boat racing. And when it’s time to dock, you can explore the restaurants and shops that line the old historic streets.
Known as the “Venice of America,” this luxurious subtropical paradise offers a complete contrast to most US harbors. The sunny skies provide the perfect atmosphere for yachting, while the rich aquatic life makes the waters of Fort Lauderdale an ideal spot for snorkeling and diving.
With a temperate climate the whole year through, San Diego has waters suitable for all kinds of boating, whether you’re steering a luxurious yacht or sailing through on a catamaran. The Port of San Diego also welcomes boaters who want to anchor for up to three days at a time and explore the city and its lively oceanside community.
San Diego is also an important port if you plan a Journey Through the Panama Canal By Cruise Ship.
Don’t let the gray skies fool you. Seattle has one of the most vibrant harbors in the US. In the summer, between July and August, there are numerous Seafair events in both the city and small neighborhoods to enjoy, including the Fourth of July fireworks show the Milk Carton Derby, featuring boats made out of milk cartons, Seafair Triathlon, and Seafair Weekend Festival.
If you’re a power boater with a need for speed, then Lake Pleasant in Arizona is the perfect destination for you. Not only will you enjoy recreational sports, but you’ll also have a vast expanse of water to zip through. You can also catch white bass or striped bass, go hiking or biking, or have a picnic by the lake. The best part? Lake Pleasant is open all year round!
The Best Seasons for a Boating Adventure
For avid boaters in North America, the best season to embark on a boating trip runs from April to October, or late spring through summer and early fall. Of course, the length of the boating season differs slightly, depending on which part of the US or Canada you are in. In sunnier places such as San Diego or Miami, boating is a perennial part of life.
However, some folks choose to go boating in the off-season since fewer boats are setting out into the water. In some places like Australia, this is also the best time to spot whales migrating.
Besides knowing the best season, boaters should also watch out for the weather. You can get regular marine forecasts from the National Weather Service. Reports include tide predictions and wave heights.
Other factors to consider before heading out are an increase in wind speed and change in wind direction, the formation of dark, thick clouds, and sudden drop in temperature and air pressure—all of which indicate bad weather.
Things to Bring on Your Boating Adventure Trip
Apart from your daily food and beverage supply, make sure to stock up on emergency food, water, and medical items. Here are other essentials:
- First-aid kit
- Identification cards and travel documents, including boating license, if required
- Mobile and satellite phones
- Chargers for different types of gadgets
- Spare batteries and rechargeable ones
- Dry bag for storing travel documents, IDs, cash, cards, and smaller electronics
- Comfortable clothes and footwear (depending on the season and activities)
- Sunscreen, hats, and visors
- Umbrella, boots, and raincoats
- Thick jackets or coats, especially for boating in the winter
- Blankets and beddings suitable for the climate
Leisure and entertainment:
- Waterproof camera
- Bluetooth speakers
- Board games and cards
- Wakeboard or paddleboard
- Snorkeling or diving gear
- Fishing and camping gear
- Cookware and utensils
NOTE: If you are bringing several electronic devices with you, make sure you have the appropriate charging system on board.
How to Maintain Your Vessel
Even before you embark on your journey, check if the boat and its equipment are up to standards. Get a professional to inspect the mechanics and electronics on board, especially those for navigation and safety, as well as the ground tackle (anchor, chains, cables, or windlasses for mooring the vessel).
A routine engine check will also reduce your risk of having mechanical trouble and being stranded in the middle of nowhere (the Coast Guard often ends up rescuing passengers from vessels that suffer a simple engine failure). Also, check for additional requirements such as oils and coolants, and make sure to get your engine keys duplicated.
Does your vessel have enough power supply to support all equipment onboard? Since you will be outdoors or in open waters, you can also install solar panels for backup electricity.
How to Prepare for Emergencies
Several safety equipment are mandatory and require approval from regulators:
- Lifejackets and other wearable personal flotation devices (PFDs): The lifejackets/life vests and PFDs must be appropriately sized and allocated to each passenger.
- Buoyant heaving line (floating rope) of about 50-foot long in one continuous stretch: This rope is thrown to a person in the water, letting them grab onto a soft floating attachment on one end as they are pulled in.
- Lifebuoy or lifesaver: This small round flotation device should be at least 24 inches in diameter and attached to the end of a heaving line when thrown to a person in the water. The lifebuoy should also have bands of reflective tape so that it can be easily spotted.
- Fire extinguishers: For smaller vessels (less than 26 feet), keep at least one B-1 type extinguisher; for larger vessels (26+ feet), at least two B-1 or one B-2 type. Instruct all passengers on how to use extinguishers properly.
- Alarm or any sound signaling device
- Light signaling devices such as a heavy-duty, waterproof flashlight or flares
Other essential safety devices include:
- Manual propelling devices for motorized vessels such as oars or paddles
- Anchor with a rope, cable, or chain about 50-foot long
- Manual hand pump or bailer for draining water out of the vessel
- Navigation lights for times of day or weather conditions that significantly reduce visibility
- Knife and multitool
- Snorkel mask for inspecting submerged parts of the boat
- Marine VHF radio for communication (Channel 16 is used by the US Coast Guard)
- Additional navigation tools: Global Positioning System (GPS), radar, maps, and paper charts
Remember to get your craft inspected by authorities to determine whether the vessel and its mechanics, electronics, and safety equipment meet standards. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts a virtual examination of boats and a subsequent safety check on location at no extra cost.
Prepare a Float Plan
Now that you have your itinerary, essential supplies, and safety equipment ready, it’s time to prepare a float plan before your adventure. This way, you can get all the details of your boating trip in order.
By outlining your plan in an official document, your contacts can easily notify authorities of your whereabouts and the duration of your trip. In case of emergency, they will be able to narrow down their search area and locate you faster.
The US Coast Guard Auxiliary has made it easy for boaters to complete a simple form to be given to trusted family members and contacts who can then coordinate with authorities when necessary. Once you return from your trip, or in case, your travel plans change, inform your contacts immediately.
The float plan should provide the following details along with photos of the vessel:
- Description of the vessel: Type of boat, size, color, engine type, construction details, and identification number
- Number of passengers and their details: Age, gender, medical conditions or disabilities, and contact details of family members or friends (phone numbers, home address, etc.)
- Itinerary (general route and timeframe): Destinations, estimated time of arrival and departure at each port, plans for return, and additional instructions in case of emergency.
- Activities: Fishing, sailing, diving, etc.
- Audit of safety equipment: Number of lifejackets, flotation devices, type of flares, etc.
- Contact information of all crewmembers and passengers (mobile and satellite phone numbers, VHF radio information, etc.)
Instruct All Passengers
Before embarking, be sure to hold an all-hands-on-deck meeting with all passengers and crew members.
- Train those with special assignments on what to do in case of emergency and how to call for help. Run down possible scenarios such as engine failure, fire, encountering inclement weather, or rescuing a person overboard.
- Inform all passengers about where to find safety/emergency equipment on the vessel.
- Demonstrate how to use items, such as flotation devices, fire extinguishers, and signaling devices, properly and how to evacuate the vessel calmly and securely if the need arises.
With these safety measures in place, you can now focus on relaxing and having a good time on your trip.
12 Fun Activities on Your Next Boating Adventure
Boating offers a wide array of activities—no matter if you’re going on an adventure with your whole family, taking friends out for some memorable time, or simply looking to kick back and unwind.
It’s the quintessential activity for seasoned and newbie boaters alike since it gives them a chance to survey the marine resources endemic in the area. When you’ve caught the right fish, you can fire up the grill and serve up the day’s catch quickly for a fresh and healthy meal. No need for a restaurant reservation to enjoy top-notch seafood!
And while some might think of fishing as a boring, slow-burn activity, others turn to it as a competitive sport and deck their boats with the proper equipment.
Snorkeling just might be the easiest way to interact with marine life without intruding too much into their natural habitat. All you need for this activity is a snorkeling mask and some fins—no expensive diving equipment or training necessary.
You don’t even have to swim too far from the boat to enter this hidden world. You only need to choose a good spot by your boat’s swim platform where aquatic life typically gathers. These can be shallow waters near the surf. Snorkeling is a big part of your boating adventure.
- Scuba diving
If you’re looking to observe sea creatures and go deeper into the underwater world, then scuba diving is your best option. Here, you’ll get an up-close encounter with coral reefs teeming with life. Just don’t forget to bring a waterproof camera.
Since you will most likely be swimming in open waters and handling special gear at the same time, you will need extensive preparation (i.e., certification) long before you set out on your boating adventure. You will also have to learn hand signals to communicate with your diving buddies while underwater.
Craving for an adrenaline rush? Get your boat, wakeboard, and tow rope ready and glide across the water. Remember to choose an appropriate sports boat for this activity. A boat suitable for wakeboarding will have a tower for attaching the tow rope. The boat’s pulling action will enable wakeboarders to lift themselves on the surface and jump over the waves.
- Paddle-boarding and kayaking
If you prefer paddling on calmer waters consequently you’ll appreciate exploring your surroundings better on a standup paddleboard (SUP) or kayak. This will give you a chance to take in the breathtaking views while staying fit, as rowing serves as an alternative upper body workout. If you’re also aiming for core muscle strength, you can use the SUP board for balance and perform paddleboard yoga.
- Camping and canyoning
Boating also gives adventurers an opportunity to explore terrains that may be difficult to reach when traveling on land. Some boaters dock or anchor in specific locations and navigate through the wilderness—just make sure to have your navigation tools like a GPS tracker or compass ready! For this reason, other outdoorsy folks also pitch a tent or go canyoning (hiking, trekking, climbing, cliff diving).
An alternative to using the traditional hook, line, and sinker is spearfishing. Most anglers have the patience to wait for a good catch starting in the early hours of the morning. However, licensed divers looking for more action will enjoy striking their spear under water, preferably when there’s a low tide.
It’s a different experience altogether since it is interactive and requires intense focus. After all, you have your target already swimming in front of you.
- Whale watching
Some waters serve as prime locations for observing the migration of whales. You can sail off to one of these locations along the Pacific or Atlantic coasts, depending on the season. For example, between May to September, some whales can be spotted in the Pacific Northwest in what is called the “Whale Trail.” (If you want to read more about Whale Watching In Big Island Hawaii)
- Swimming with whale sharks
The idea of swimming with sharks can be scary, but it’s a different story with these gentle giants. Whale sharks only feed on small fish, krill, and plankton. Being solitary creatures, they only gather during the mating season. Therefore, responsible tour operators take only a small batch of divers when heading out into the open waters.
If you’re hoping to get an up-close encounter with a whale shark, it’s best to coordinate with ecological groups in the area.
People sometimes embark on a boating adventure to simply “get away” from it all. Sailing off into a different part of the world offers you a chance to enjoy not just the destination but, more importantly, the journey itself. Some families have also been known for sailing off across the world, teaching their kids the basics of marine science and the practicalities of life on a boat at a young age.
Steering a sailboat requires in-depth knowledge of how the vessel works under different weather conditions and years of training being out in the water. Be sure to have an experienced captain and crew on board.
- Joining regattas
Winning a sailing tournament, known as a regatta, is the crowning glory of avid sailors with love for speed. A regatta consists of short races that participants will need to complete to advance in the competition.
The boat that finishes a course—by sailing from the starting line and around a buoy a few times—in the shortest amount of time wins the race. It’s an exhilarating experience for those with advanced skills in sailing.
- Dock and dine
Yachts, in particular, are known for creating an intimate atmosphere perfect for social activities. You can throw a summer barbecue party or wine-and-cheese tasting with a few of your friends. When you’re tired from all the outdoor activities, you can always dock in a beautiful harbor and arrange for a special meal, such as a candle-lit dinner for two, aboard your boat.
Feeling extravagant? You can listen to a concert or even put together a private firework show from the bay.
There’s a diverse range of activities for boaters and boating enthusiasts. The secret is to prepare well, weeks before you set out into the water. Remember to check and maintain the vessel, consult with the experts, and bring necessary supplies and equipment to keep you and your passengers safe, comfortable and happy throughout your adventure.
Jason Scott is a Recreation Activities Coordinator for Westside Recreation, a boating & jet ski rental company in Arizona. Even outside work, Jason enjoys traveling, extreme adventure, and water sports.