What I Learned When I Became Part of a Boating Team
I was introduced to the boating world in 2017 by my partner Rick, who purchased a 23-foot bowrider. We spent a couple of years enjoying the bow rider with various activities such as tubing, wake surfing, travelling to marinas for lunches, watching sunsets in the middle of the bay.
I loved our boating life and all the fun times we spent on the water.
In 2020, Rick decided to fulfill his dream and purchased a 32-foot cruiser, which was a game changer. I embraced the idea of camping on the water (I know I get told it’s not camping every time I use that analogy), and brought my positive A game to the changes in our boating lifestyle.
I had learned how to drive the bowrider so that Rick could learn to surf behind the boat, however, I had never done much more than that. I had never docked the boat, I had merely gotten the fenders ready and grabbed the dock at the appropriate time.
Being a first mate seemed easy.
We are firm believers that if you think you know everything, you don’t, so Rick arranged Boaterskills.ca to come and improve his knowledge of owning and operating our boat, Meant 2 Be. Surprised I was when I discovered this training was for me, too.
During the three hours we spent with our trainer we went through everything on the boat, the electrical controls, how to tie lines (which was a first for me, and I might add I am awesome at this), and how to safely get the boat off the dock. Safety was a huge part of the training. We practiced docking the boat so I could master how to be Rick’s eyes, and to aid in docking while keeping myself injury free.
Honestly, I can say for me that being shown the right way to help dock the boat was huge. To this day I know my limits and what the consequences of putting myself between a wall and the boat would be.
So as the captain is starting his engines, making sure everything in the cockpit is set to go, I do the real work of untying the lines and securing them for departure, making sure we stay off the dock while departing, and bringing all the fenders aboard. Rick he now cruises off into the sunset. Sounds easy for him….right?
After a couple of boat nights, I mentioned to Rick that I felt I should learn to operate Meant 2 Be in case of emergency -- if anything every happened to him and I needed to get to shore I wanted to make sure I could do it.
A great captain named Kevin volunteered his time to do one-on-one training with me. We started off inside the boat, going over operating the head. I thought I knew everything about flushing a toilet, but I still had some takeaways. We went over the electrical panel again, because by now I had several questions for him. He had me show him how I tied knots (he was slightly impressed), and then together we left the dock so I could show him everything I didn’t know about driving a boat. Let me tell you it was hard, two shifters, no brakes, no experience whatsoever. We spent three hours learning how to read the winds and currents, how to back into slips, how to pull up to a wall. It was a lot to learn. A LOT!
As Captain Rick and I were getting use to Meant 2 Be, there were things from our training that he retained, and things that I retained, so our jobs on the boat were starting to become more defined -- just like operating a house, we would talk about who was going to do what when we got to the dock, and leaving the dock.
Typically, when we arrive at the dock, we provision the boat, Rick fills the water tank, I fill the fridge and unpack what needs to be done. Rick disconnects the electricity, we both check the electrical panel to make sure fridges and appliances are turned on. Once we are ready to depart, I untie all lines as Rick starts the engines, and I board Meant 2 Be for departure. I continue my role by communicating with the Captain to let him know if anything is going wrong and to let him know when we have cleared the dock. It is all about teamwork -- he has to trust me and I have to communicate with him what I am seeing if something is not working.
Once we are off the dock, the next job is to bring the fenders in (sometimes I forget the ones on the stern, hey, I’m not perfect). Most of the time I bring the fenders in, and sometimes I drive the boat while Rick does.
A night on the hook is our favourite time on the boat. We may set the anchor different than most captains and first mates. Rick goes to the anchor hatch once he has the boat heading in the correct position. I am at the helm until the anchor is set. He tells me what I need to do and I do it – port up, neutral – another new language I had to learn. This works for us as the anchor chain can get tangled, and well, Rick is just better at it. When it’s time to pull up anchor he is back at the hatch and I am back at the helm. During both processes I am responsible for ensuring that we have enough depth to maneuver with no prop damage – one more thing for me to try and keep track of.
My role of first mate is not only dockage assistance, I have an important role on route to help keep us safe. I monitor the GPS watching for buoys, dangerous water levels, and hazards that could be floating in the water.
So first mates, it may feel like a lot of work, and it is to support the captain, but we all have a job to do. The more you can educate yourself on operating a vessel and how to safely get the job done will make your boating lifestyle a lot more enjoyable for you and the captain. One of the best resources for continuous learning is your peers!