Boating for beginners
Written by Jonnyboy
There is something about owning a boat, perhaps it’s our idea of
ourselves as a nation of seafarers, or maybe as we’re actually a nation
of beach visitors we’ve spent our formative years landlocked and
watching someone else enjoying a calm sea on a fine sunny day.
Whatever the reason, there aren’t many people around who aren’t struck
by the romance of putting to sea yourself, catching a flapping supper
and pulling up a couple of pots along the way to provide something a
little bit finer.
As a newbie to boating, who has learned the hard way that I know very
little, here is my guide to getting yourself into the water, and back
Ok, I’ll make things clear from the start. If you have a budget of 10k
then this article isn’t for you. If you have £10k then give it to me
and I’ll write you something useful in about a year.
There are loads of different designs of boats around; inflatable, ribs,
dorys, clinker built, etc, etc. I’m going to concentrate on the most
popular design, the GRP clinker style. Clinker boats were originally
made in the 19th century and the style relates to the process of
overlapping boards to make the hull. Modern GRP boats emulate this
style but in a more advanced hull design.
So, there are two important aspects to the boat of your choice, hull design and shaft length.
There are three main types of hull design, displacement, semi planing
and planing. The displacement hull simply does that, the hull is
supported exclusively by the volume of water it displaces. A semi
planning hull does more or less the same, whilst it can develop ‘lift’
through forward motion. A planning hull is mostly supported by dynamic
lift (although it retains enough displacement to remain afloat)
If you think of a surfboard, sit of it and it will just about keep you
afloat but it’s mostly underwater. Catch a wave and you can stand up
whilst the majority of the board is on top of the water. That’s the
difference between displacement and planning. So.
Displacement hulls – simple, low speed boats, good buoyancy and stability.
Semi-displacement – retain elements of the displacement but are capable of additional speed with the correct engine
Planing hull – need some decent propulsion to get up on a plane – basically a speedboat.
Thus we are going to discard the final option of a planing hull and
look at displacement or semi displacement hulls. These give you the
best stability, buoyancy and ease of use.
My first boat was a 16ft with a semi displacement hull, as she had a
25hp engine I could get her up on the plane easily and be where I
wanted to go fairly quickly. However. As I don’t tend to go far out to
sea (and this article doesn’t cover that) then my next boat is probably
going to be a 16ft with an 8-10hp engine as that would suit my needs
Outboard motors come in three ‘lengths’ - short, standard and long
shaft. The type of engine you need depends on the length from the top
to the bottom of your transom (the bit at the back that the outboard
bolts onto). As a rough guide
Transom length – 16” or under, short shaft
Transom length – 20” or over, long shaft
If you get your measurements correct then the cavitation plate (a large
finlike bit above the propeller) will be level with the bottom of the
boat. It is very important to get the right shaft length for
performance, safety and effective cooling of your outboard engine.
Outboards come in two types of engine, two stroke and four stroke. Most
older engines are two stroke and require two stroke oil to be mixed in
with the fuel (some have premixing). Two stroke outboards are no longer
manufactured due to environmental legislation, but stocks of new two
stroke engines are available, but becoming more and more restricted
Two stroke – Lighter, less complex, cheaper second hand, easier to service
Four stroke – ‘Greener’ & quieter, more economical
In terms of performance 15hp is the minimum you’ll need to be able to
plane; if you want to pull a donut or skier then 25hp is your
requirement. In a sheltered bay then 4hp is fine for pottering, but if
the area you expect to travel is subject to strong currents then an 8hp
should be your minimum, all things being equal. Of course, the
important thing is that you match your engine to your boat. A 40hp on
your 13ft dingy will just rip the transom out, whereas a tiny engine on
a 17footer will struggle to make any headway.
Most outboard engines come with separate fuel tank, with a fuel line
connector and pump ‘primer’ they are pretty reliable, but one thing you
must always, always remember is never go to sea without a second form
of propulsion. This can be as little as a pair or oars or as much as an
auxiliary 9.9hp engine on its own movable bracket.
When it comes to checking out engines it’s about common sense, if it’s
running then a good stream of water should be coming out of the ‘pee
hole’ (outboard engines use the water they are immersed in as their
cooling system) Any bodged electrics or build up of salty deposits
(outboards should be flushed through with fresh water after being used
in the sea) will point to an engine that hasn’t received much TLC.
However, used outboards are easy enough to come by, and £500 should get
you something pretty useful, if you didn’t get one with your boat.
When it comes to the romance of the sea, boat trailers are the ginger
cousin left at home. Rusty frames, poor design and self destructing
hubs can make it a very unpleasant experience towing, launching and
recovering a boat. When a trailer is reversed into water, then the
lubrication in the hubs often gets a hammering. It’s important to check
and lubricate the hub bearings on a boat trailer regularly, likewise
check that the frame is solid, the tyres uncracked and that the rollers
for launching the boat move freely. It should have a workable jockey
wheel and a front hand winch in good condition. Check the strop on the
hand winch for frays as they get put under some serious tension when
recovering your boat.
You’ll need a trailer board to hang from your boat, and a spare wheel
for the trailer. So don’t forget to carry a spanner that fits!
Again, you can get a decent new trailer for £600-£700, or pay £2000 for a rollercoaster, twin axled, fully braked job.
A ratchet strap is invaluable for securing your boat, fit two for luck.
If you check the picture above, there’s one idiot in it not wearing a life jacket!
If it’s your boat then you are responsible for the safety of everyone
on it. My basic safety package for inshore fishing (less than half a
mile off shore) is.
100 Newton lifejackets for everyone on board.
Anchor, chain, rope
First aid kit
Hook on a 6ft pole
You can get a VHF radio to contact the coast guard if you wish, however
they require a licence which requires you to take a course first,
budget £200 as a minimum for the course and radio. If you can afford it
then I would recommend that you get one.
The RNLI also offer many resources for sea safety, including free sea checks for your boat. http://www.rnli.org.uk/what_we_do/sea_and_beach_safety/sea_safety/sea_safety_home
Really a two person job, but can be done by one if you like getting
wet. The key here is the angle of the slip way. First things first, get
the boat ready for the water, check drain bungs are in, remove lighting
boards and ratchet straps, prime the fuel, and check that the outboard
starts (briefly, remember it has no cooling out of water)
Check that you have your safety equipment on board, check again and be
sure everyone knows what to do. And always keep your outboard in the
raised position to ensure it doesn’t catch on anything.
Ok, so you reverse into the water until the back wheels of your car get
wet – success! The boat floats off your trailer and out of reach (not
really, because you had a bow line secured to the trailer or your
You can then beach the boat, tie her off, park your car and trailer and get back to the boat.
The more common occurrence is the trailer is still too far out of
the water, but hopefully the well maintained rollers on your trailer
mean that with a pair of waders on you can push the boat off into the
If not then tie a rope between the trailer and tow hook, release the
trailer and let her slowly into the water – after the boat has floated
you can pull the trailer out with the rope attached to the car.
Go slow, be deliberate and be careful. All my mishaps have involved too
much speed too early. Check that everything is stowed, that none of
your ropes are trailing in the water, and that your engine is firing
out of the peephole, let the engine warm up before moving to three
quarters or full power.
Again, it’s far easier with two people around, you need to moor or
beach your boat and then get the car and trailer reversed ready for
recovery. If you can beach on the slipway then run a line from the bow,
push the boat out and then pull her in to the first runner on your
trailer, if you have a helper then one can operate the winch whilst you
keep the boat lined up to the trailer, on a windy day or alone this can
be a right PITA to line up, but the better your trailer the easier it
is. And most importantly, make sure the tide hasn’t gone out!
Putting it together
You want a small boat to go out in fine weather, drop off a few
pots, catch some mackerel and have fun. Relax – it really isn’t that
A small 16ft day boat with trailer and outboard can be picked up for
less than £2000. All your safety equipment need cost no more than £200.
If you can find a mate to pay half and share ownership then you can be
on the water for a fairly inexpensive sum.
You won’t be going more than half a mile offshore, and your season will
probably end around the first week of October, but that’s OK. You’ve
caught your fill of tasty fish during the summer months, watched the
sea boil with fry around your boat, jumped for joy at the first lobster
from your own pot, and gawped as a seal pops his head up 50 yards away,
or a school of porpoises herd fish past your boat into the bay.
It’s not a way to get cheap fish, but you won’t eat a fresher fish than
one you caught yourself, and I can honestly say that sitting out on a
calm sea, that reflects the summer sun, and catching mackerel with the
kids is one of the most joyous and satisfying things I’ve ever done.
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