Throughout my past years of tournament bass fishing, teaching students and charter clients, I have witnessed many boating accidents, close calls, and have seen many inexperienced anglers just waiting for accidents to happen the way they operate and handle their boats. There are several tips a boater should learn before he or she launches their boat when spending time on the water. I share these boating "safety" tips with all of my students while attending my 3-day bass fishing school as well as my bass charter clients because I hope that I can help to eliminate some of these incidents that do happen unexpectantly (kinda like preventative maintenance on the water.)
One of the first and probably the most important tip would be to ALWAYS KNOW YOUR WEATHER FORECAST!.... I'm sure that I can speak for most of the tournament anglers as well as the serious bass anglers who spend a good amount of time on the water when I say "Always expect the unexpected." It seems like at least 80 percent of the time (especially during tournament days) you will find bad weather conditions. Weather can play a very important role to a angler and can very easily ruin a good day on the water unless one is prepared for it. For example let's say that I was going to fish on Lake Champlain, Kentucky Lake, or Lake Ontario. All three of these different lakes are very big bodies of water and when you get a good wind come up, these lakes can become very dangerous if you:
A. Have a boat that don't handle well in rough water.
B. Don't have enough boating experience to handle your boat in rough conditions.
C. Don't have the right size of boat that can handle rough conditions (what I mean by this is to have a big enough boat to safely get to where you want to go on a certain body of water. For example, if you fish a river that has protection from the wind you would not need to have as big of a boat as you would need if you fished big open areas of water that can get rough in a hurry.)
Secondly, anglers need to know how to operate their boats in most any kind of conditions that may arise. Let's say that we launched our boat early in the morning when the weather was nice, clear, and calm, and the forecast for the day was light winds of 5 to 10 miles per hour (yeah right! how many times has your local forecaster ever got the weather right?) and we went to some of our favorite fishing spots and nothing was biting, and then we went a little further and further and as the day went on before we realized it we were about 10 miles from where we launched our boat. Now, all of a sudden the wind starts to blow a little harder and harder more like 25 to 35 miles per hour instead of what was forecasted and the waves start showing white caps and grew to 2 and 3 feet high and we only have a 16' to a 18' bass boat (ugh-oh). The first thing we want to do is make sure that all passengers on board are wearing life jackets, especially the driver of the boat making sure that his or her life jacket is connected to the safety cord that fastens to the kill switch. Next, make sure that everything is secured to the boat deck (boxes, rods, baits, etc.) or they are put securely in compartments to keep them from flying back and hitting anyone in the boat while in motion.
Before we get started for a rough trip back to where we launched out of, I would strongly recommend two very important items you should have on your boat which are:
1. A electric trim (or tilt) switch for the outboard gas motor (which usually comes equipped on your boat when you purchase it)
2. A "Hot-Foot" (normally an option in most bass boats,) which is a accelerator pedal that is connected to the floor and works just like a gas pedal in an automobile. I have had a "Hot-Foot" installed in all my boat(s) ever since they were introduced on the market because I personally feel that this is one of the best safety features you can have when operating a boat, especially in rough water conditions. This pedal allows a boat driver to keep "Both" hands on the steering wheel especially when the water gets rough (for maximum boat control), and it will slow your boat down real quick when you let your foot off the gas pedal. The only problem that I have found with a "Hot-Foot" is that some of the boat dealerships I have visited claim that it voids ones warranty if they had one installed in their new boat, so please check with your dealership and make sure of your boat warranty before installing or having one installed.
Now, let's start back to the boat launch..... The best way I found when encountering big waves or choppy water is to slow the boat down and keep the nose (or bow) of the boat trimmed down as much as possible. If you have a side of the lake or body of water that may have calmer conditions, ease over to the calmer side by driving the boat in-between or parallel with the waves. If conditions get really unsafe such as small craft warnings on a body of water and if there isn't a close place to go to instead of the launch, sometimes a "Zigzag" pattern will help. As mentioned above as far as keeping the nose (or bow) trimmed down as much as possible angel the boat about a 15% angle and zigzag back and forth to each side if the waves are coming straight against you on your way back to the launch. A larger boat will of course handle better than a smaller one in rough conditions, but when you get 2' to 4' waves coming against you even the 20' boats will have a rough wet ride. The worst thing you can do in rough weather is panic!, just take your time and be a smart (not a rookie scatterbrain speed freak) driver always keeping safety in mind and you'll get wet, but you'll make it back safely. I have been in these situations many, many, times through my years as a bass pro and I may get nervous sometimes, but I always managed to get back safely without injury to anyone on board my boat.
I would like to give you a few tips on boating that I have had to learn the hard way over the years. Hopefully these tips can make a difference for you one day and not ruin a good day of bass fishing.
Tip-1... Always have either a spare battery (charged-up) or a heavy duty set of jumper cables on board. The reason for this is because I've been in 2, 3, and 4 day tournaments or have been with clients or students and not running the main gas engine very much (which usually charges the main battery) while running my livewells and electronics all day long (which usually run off of your main battery), not realizing this at the time I go to start my boat up and there isn't enough juice in the battery to turn my main gas motor over to start. Believe me! it happens to many anglers..........
Tip-2... Always let someone know where you are going and an approximate time for your return. Situations in the past that I have encountered were anglers that didn't know how to handle their boats in rough water, or they broke down (stranded without communication), or for what ever the reason didn't make it back to where they launched out of at their designated time. Try to carry a 2-way radio, cell phone, flares, and emergency flag in your boat and always expect the unexpected!
Tip-3... When running up or down the water and you come to these large 25'+ boats that leave these huge wakes behind them and you want to pass, trim your nose (or bow) downwards and slow down while turning your boat slightly angled into the wakes. Once you get past the wakes, "keep on truckin"! (I mean boating)..... Oh yeah, there is one other small little thing I need to add to this tip: KNOW YOUR SPEED LIMIT! Most bodies of water don't have speed limits but the ones that do watch out for the law because you will get a ticket, and that can surely ruin your day of fishing. A good angler will always follow and obey all Federal and State Laws and Regulations... as well as always being courteous and thoughtful of others.
I hope this article will help not only bass anglers but all boaters! Each year the bass boats keep getting bigger and faster and I just hope the drivers use their good judgment and always, always, think safety as a number one (numeral uno) priority.
Until next time, take care & God Bless! If you may have any questions or comments I would love to hear from you at: email@example.com or go to www.capital.net/~rlbrown or www.fishing-boating.com/basscoach