Wowie! What a blast we just had cruising the Tennessee River! Spectacular fall colors, wide-open waters and a 90-foot lock to keep a little challenge in our spirit. When the GPS hiccuped, we traced our route on the paper charts close at hand. Our next adventure has us zooming out into the Atlantic from Charleston to Fort Lauderdale. Checking out the forecast of feisty seas, we are happy to tuck into the ICW for a 60-mile trek until the seas smooth a bit. Trips are planned, strategies are prepared then adjusted, and memories are made. Cruising is an adventure open to everyone, not just the experts. But how do you acquire the knowledge and skill needed to cruise safely and uncover the latest and greatest gear to keep the adventure wonderful?
Seasoned boaters and neophytes alike have the opportunity to rent, charter or purchase boats that will cruise them off into the sunsets of their dreams. There is a boat for every budget and a trip for every talent. And while some of us have been lucky enough to begin our boating adventures as kids, many would-be cruisers are starting from scratch. So how do we all get to the same destination without hoisting the white flag of surrender?
Good news! We don't all have to get to the same destination at the same speed. There are boating courses aimed at all levels of boaters, even those who don't yet own their perfect boat. Experts in any field don't rest on their laurels, and cruisers are no exception. topical journals and continuing education courses help us hone our talents and have a blast when we practice our achievements. sometimes, the learning is informal, with banter on the docks: Which anchor is best? What engine design is most effective? sometimes, the best route is in an actual classroom, guided by a cruiser who has been there and done that. Especially when we learn what not to do, avoiding the pitfalls others have explored before us.
For the never-owned-a-boat person, take heart. None of us started out knowing everything, and there are more options than ever for learning about this coolest of sports. start with the internet. Online publications are a terrific resource for how to do anything. The United States Power Squadron, for instance, offers online courses that range from basic boating to marine radio usage and how to determine the weather. Reading a book or watching a video can also point you in the right direction before you go aboard. But this is all just a tease, an appetizer to the main course. Most of us want to see and touch the real thing, so after you take the class, read the book or watch the video, try chartering a boat with a captain to put those words into deeds and see if you are ready for your own journey.
There are as many seminar choices as there are different types of boats. The USCG Auxiliary, Mystic Seaport, the Mariners' Museum, the Annapolis Sailboat Show and TrawlerPort are some of the more popular places to find topics of interest. These institutions sponsor everything from informal discussions to multiday conferences crucial for us all to stay current.
In February, the Sound Boating Symposium will include Safety @ Sea seminars presented by Landfall Navigation. While you may not think of boating in Connecticut in the midst of winter, this presentation will feed your soul until it's warm enough to launch your boat come spring. Even the most seasoned sailor can't help but pick up a few tips on weather forecasting, medical preparedness and safety-related equipment.
If you happen to be in the sunny South this February, you may want to learn more about boat systems from Captain Chris. If fuel filters, impellers, bilge pumps and inverters aren't in your everyday comfort zone, a one-day jam-packed seminar will help prepare you. The Miami Boat Show provides a CruiserPort, where 45-minute presentations cover new technologies, cruising destinations and topics such as choosing the best anchor. Attending these seminars will often help you save your money for marinas, not mechanics!
Once you join the ranks of official boat owners, consider hiring a training captain to get your cruising well underway. Your best buddy may handle his boat with flair and finesse, but not everyone can teach. An experienced training captain can show you the ropes and the engines, your below-deck systems and how to navigate, anchor and maneuver. And let's not forget docking practice! This type of captain is more like a coach, making sure you understand the plays, then giving you feedback as you practice your moves. This method of instruction not only gets you more comfortable, it also allows you to better understand your boat.
With a training captain, you'll have discovered the intimate details good cruisers should know about their vessels by the time you dock your boat at home port. Spending time below deck each morning with your coach allows you to identify what is right and what is not. And spending each night in a new marina, docking in different weather conditions and currents, builds your cruising confidence and hones your close-quarter maneuvering skills. Even navigation and plotting a course becomes more meaningful when you are learning and putting it into practice at the same time. Not much beats hands-on learning.
And your crew can benefit from this type of teaching as well. Your captain-coach can show you how to work better together as a team. Communication improves when all members of the crew learn similar skills with the related explanations. When you understand the job of a helmsman, you can be a better mate. Conversely, a helmsman who appreciates the effort needed to set up and secure lines is less likely to grumble when the mate isn't quite ready and asks for more time before docking. Learning these tasks from a qualified trainer can make all the difference between a difficult cruise and a spectacular adventure!
From the big international events to the small local shows, walking a boat show is a great way to discover new info to file away for future use. Onshore and in-water displays expose everything from jazzy chart plotters to galley gadgets, from fuel filters to WiFi. Many boat show producers include seminars with the price of admission. Some offer more detailed topics for an additional fee in an all-day package. Do your research before you plan a trip to a boat show you will be amazed by what lessons are available.
Even if you don't yet own your boat, you may elect to join an association such as the Marine Trawler Owners Association (MTOA), America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association (AGLCA), Nordhavn Dreamers or DeFever Owners Group to name just a few. Participating in their online forums can answer many of your questions about successful cruising. Attend a rendezvous, where you can get information from the owners themselves: Why do they like a particular product feature? What will they do differently next time? Many rendezvous welcome non-boat owners and offer educational sessions to all who attend. It's a great way to have some fun while learning about the cruising culture.
And remember: This is pleasure boating! Take the extra steps to educate yourself and chart your course for a great boating adventure.