Tips from the Sailing Capital of America: Top 3 Mistakes New Boat Owners Make

Top 3 Mistakes New Boat Owners Make

Ahoy from Annapolis, the Sailing Capital of the World! 

Boasting more than 530 miles of shoreline spread across the Chesapeake Bay and its many creeks and inlets, people who live invest in Annapolis waterfront homes are often inspired to buy a boat soon after. 

If you're in the market for a new boat, congratulations! Owning a boat can be a lot of fun. However, there are some things you need to know before you make your purchase. In this article, we asked nautical pros to chime in on the most common mistakes made by new boat owners. By the end, you'll be better prepared for your maiden voyage. 

Ready to set sail? Keep reading to learn about the top mistakes first-time boat owners make. 

Not Tracking Marine Weather

Marine Weather is More Complex Than Land Weather

Marine weather is different than the weather on land. 

If you're a new boat owner, it won't be enough to glance at the generic weather app on your smartphone every morning. You'll need to keep a careful eye on marine weather reports to avoid damaging your boat, or worse, putting yourself in a dangerous situation. 

"It sounds obvious to more experienced boaters,” says Nick Mueller of, "but I’ve seen lots of beginners who check the land forecast and expect it to apply on the water." 

Marine weather is more than just temperatures and the chance of rain; it tracks the atmospheric conditions, wave qualities, along with wind speeds and directions as they specifically relate to boating. 

There are several marine weather phrases you'll need to learn. Here are a few helpful ones to get you started: 

  • Wind waves: waves created by wind and last eight seconds at most
  • Swell: Any wave created by wind that's moved out of its origination area, creating brief moments of elevated depths for up to 10 seconds
  • Rip currents: Underwater channels that move away from land, especially common near inlets, creeks, and beaches in the Chesapeake region

You can use several marine weather resources to keep up with the latest conditions. Doing so will help you avoid these other weather-related mishaps. 

Avoiding Storm Damage While Docked

People living in waterfront communities are familiar with the powerful waves that accompany storms. Once you've established a habit of keeping up with marine weather forecasts, you need to be able to predict storms and plan to prevent damage to your boat. 

If you suspect that a storm is coming, you can do a few things to prepare your boat a few days in advance. 

Make a storm plan before it storms. Don't wait until disaster is looming to make a plan for storms. When you join a harbor or marina, learn about their storm plan, then use that as the starting point for creating your own. 

Store important documents off the boat. Insurance papers, proof of registration, and other documents stored on the boat need to be taken ashore. 

Be safe, not sorry. You can never be too prepared for a storm. It's better to take all the precautions and not need them than to do nothing. 

Winter's Coming: Did You Prepare Your Boat?

You might be tempted to keep your boat in the water year-round, especially if you live in a place with mild winters. However, if you don't winterize your boat properly, you'll do more harm than good. 

Winterizing is the process of preparing your boat for colder weather and ensuring that it will be safe in cold waters. If you don't winterize your boat, you risk damaging the engine, hull, and other essential parts. 

Here are a few tips for winterizing your boat: 

  • Drain the old engine oil and replace it with a high-quality option before winter storage
  • Flush and drain your engine to avoid the risk of cooling water freezing in the winter
  • Oil and grease internal parts for protection
  • Clean and wax the exterior to avoid scratches that cause rust

You also need to choose the best off-season storage option for your boat. Covered storage is ideal, but if that's not an option, you can use a tarp or shrink-wrap to protect your boat from the elements. 

Weather Changes Fast: What Will You Do If a Storm Hits on the Water?

Even if you're an experienced boater, it's essential to know how to react when the weather changes while you're on the water. After all, conditions can change quickly, and it's always better to be safe than sorry. 

You should keep a few things in mind if the weather turns while you're boating. The first steps for safety are to put on a life vest and bring your speed down. After that, you can use a map or GPS to decide which shore is closest. If there are large waves, make sure you approach them at an acute angle. 

Not Learning From Their Mistakes

Use All Mistakes Like Hitting the Dock as Learning Opportunities

Owning a boat is a learning process. Even after preparing, researching, and taking lessons, new boat owners will make a few "rookie mistakes." Minor mistakes are bound to happen, so don't be discouraged if and when they do. 

Emily and Adam of live on a sailboat full-time and have learned many valuable lessons. 

According to the couple, "Beginners (and experienced sailors alike!) will always make mistakes, and I think it's important for new sailors to remember that they will mess up from time to time! With that in mind, one of the biggest mistakes we see beginner sailors make is not following their intuition or being afraid to correct their mistakes."

Instead of trying to avoid the near-infinite mistakes, just avoid this one mistake: not treating your mishaps as a learning opportunity. 

Hitting the Dock

Ouch! There's nothing quite as disheartening as the sound of your hull scraping the dock. It brings to mind the tried-and-true saying among boaters, "never approach the dock faster than you're willing to hit it."

Bumps and dings are bound to happen, even for the most experienced boaters. You can prevent tiny errors from becoming catastrophic by approaching the dock slowly and steadily every time you approach. 

Don't give up if you hit the dock and damage your boat. Make a note of the conditions that caused your collision (your speed, any distractions, or mechanical problems) and make a goal to avoid them moving forward. 

Forgetting About the Small Details

When you first get your boat, it's easy to focus on the big picture and forget the small details. After all, there are so many things to think about when you're a new boat owner! While it's important not to overlook the major components of boat ownership, don't forget about the little things that can make a big difference.

Larry Snider, the VP of Operations at Casago Vacation Rentals, reminds new boaters about the importance of frequent battery check-ups.

"One fairly common mistake among new boaters is having lead-acid batteries and not checking them or adding water to them periodically," Snider says. "Many new boat owners discover the fact that batteries need to be watered only after they've failed to do so and the batteries have been destroyed. Be sure that you know exactly what kind of batteries your boat has and if they need any routine attention."

There are numerous maintenance tasks you need to address before and after using your boat. Forgetting to pull the drain plug between uses is common among new boaters. This simple mistake can cause extensive water damage to your boat's engine. 

Consider making a boating checklist to help you keep track of everything you need to do.  

Running Out of Gas

This mistake is so common that it has its own name: "hitting the wall." In track and field, hitting the wall is when an athlete exhausts their energy and collapses. In boating, hitting the wall is when you run out of gas while on the water. While it might seem like a minor inconvenience, running out of gas can be pretty dangerous. 

If you find yourself in this situation, don't panic. The first thing you should do is turn off all unnecessary electronics and appliances. This will help conserve what little power you have left. Next, assess your situation and decide whether it's best to call for help or try to make it to shore. 

Call a friend or tow service for help if you have a cell signal. If you're in an area with lots of boat traffic, put out a mayday call on VHF Channel 16

If you don't have cell service or are in a remote area, it's best to try to make it to shore. Use the tide and wind to your advantage to help guide you in. 

To avoid running out, budget your gas before you leave. Some boaters like to use the Three-Thirds Rule to always have extra gas in the tank. 

The rule works like this: turn your boat towards the marina after using 1/3 of your fuel. This way, you can have 1/3 to get back and 1/3 of your tank just in case. If you wait until your tank is half empty to turn around, you will be cutting it close. 

Not Diversifying Their Navigational Tools

Even if you're an experienced navigator on land, driving a boat is an entirely different experience. Before heading out on the water, brushing up on your navigation skills is essential. 

Improperly reading the tides and currents can lead to severe problems while boating. Make sure you know how to read a nautical chart and understand the symbols. 

You should also have a basic understanding of using maps and other manual strategies. Many new boat owners rely too heavily on their GPS and don't take the time to learn the basics of navigation. If your GPS fails, you could find yourself in serious trouble. 

When boating at night, it's important to be aware of the dangers that come with it. One of the biggest mistakes new boaters make is not being prepared for navigation in the dark. 

Ensure you have all the necessary lighting, functioning communication systems, and several navigational tools. 

Not Budgeting For the Real Costs of Owning a Boat 

Budget for All Costs of Owning a Boat

Don't fall victim to buyers' remorse. Plan for the expenses associated with owning a boat, not just the boat itself. The cost of a boat doesn't stop at the purchase price. You'll need to factor in mooring fees, insurance, storage, and repairs. 

If you're not careful, the costs of owning a boat can quickly spiral out of control. To avoid going overboard, create a budget that floats. 

Annual Fees: Storage, Maintenance, Registration & More 

Depending on the type of boat you have, you may need to pay annual registration fees. These fees vary depending on the boating laws in your state.  

You'll also need to factor in the cost of docking your boat. If you don't have a slip at a marina, you'll need to pay for storage.

Choosing an overpriced marina is a surefire way to blow through your budget. 

Ravi Parikh, the CEO of RoverPass, has seen RV and boating enthusiasts make this mistake. 

"A lot of newbies make the mistake of picking the flashiest, fanciest marina they can find, but there are a few crucial things to look for before settling on a choice," Parikh says. "Firstly, adequate shelter from both wind and boat traffic is a top priority. You'll also want to be certain a marina has adequate security and offers all of the services you'll be needing nearby."

Striking a balance between affordability and amenities when choosing a marina ensures you'll get the best bang for your buck. 

Maintenance, Gas & Add-Ons That Keep Your Boat Running

The cost of maintaining a boat can add up faster than many new owners are prepared for. You'll also need to factor in gas, dock lines, fenders, flares, and more.

As a general rule of thumb, expect to spend 10% of your boat's total value on maintenance. 

You should also note that gas for boats is more expensive than it is for cars. The Chesapeake Bay Area's current boat fuel prices range from $5 to $6 per gallon. 

What's that going to cost every month? Here's a rough estimate:

  • The average boat holds 40 gallons of fuel, while average gas consumption for boats is eight gallons per hour at cruising speeds
  • Imagine you use your boat 12 hours a month
  • Your monthly fuel expenses would range between $480 and $580 per month

Safety First: Don't Leave Port Without Your Safety Items

There are dozens of safety items you have to buy before using your boat. The total cost can quickly exceed $1000, so run the numbers before signing on the dotted line. 

Start with getting life jackets. You need to buy enough to accommodate your boat's total potential occupancy. Top-quality life jackets cost between $40 and $50 each.  

A GPS is another safety essential. A quality GPS for a boat can cost anywhere from $200 to $1000. 

You'll also need flares, an emergency locator beacon, and a first-aid kit. 

Boat Values Are Anchors, Not Buoys: Don't Finance Your Boat For Too Long

Many new boat owners make the mistake of financing their purchase without researching or creating a solid financial plan. While it can be advantageous to spread the cost of a boat across multiple years, overextending your financing plan will cost you more than it saves. 

The best strategy is to make the most significant down payment you can comfortably afford. Then, opt for higher monthly payments to help you repay the loan quickly. Unlike real estate investments, boats are an asset that depreciates. A lengthy financing plan could put you in a position where you owe more money than the boat is worth. 

The Best Boaters Are Prepared For Their Mistakes

The Biggest Mistake is to Not Learn From Them

Owning a boat is a great way to spend time with family and friends, explore the waterways, and get away from it all. However, there are some essential things to keep in mind if you want to make the most of your boating experience. By studying up on marine weather conditions, learning from your rookie mistakes, and budgeting carefully, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the winds at your back. Have you made any of these mistakes when owning a boat? If so, don’t worry—a new tide is coming. 

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