How do I drive my new boat?
May 7, 2007 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I've driven everything else...but don't know anything about boat controls.

Before you run for cover. I bought a pontoon boat to use on the small lake at my cottage. Its a straightforward 17' deal with a 30hp outboard. It has a console. The console has a steering wheel (that part I understand). The control on the right is the throttle. It moves back and forth and has a red button placed on the bottom side of the top of the lever. At the base of the lever is a "fast idle" lever. Below the ignition switch is the simple knob...that i have no clue about.
How do I know its in neutral? How do I get it in gear (forward and reverse)?
posted by badkarmaboy to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Well, the red button is a lock that, when squeezed, will allow you to move the throttle into forward or reverse. There's a detent for neutral (in the middle) and when you push the throttle forward (while squeezing the red button) or backward, the transmission will be placed in forward or reverse, but will be idling. Move the throttle forward more and the forward movement (power) will increase, etc.

The fast idle lever is to be used when you start the motor to increase the RPMs without engaging the transmission. Like when you press the gas on your car when it's in neutral.

The knob might be a choke. You should take a power squadron (or similar) boating course offered by the coast guard in your area.
posted by suasponte at 11:11 AM on May 7, 2007

If you're having trouble starting the boat, you'd put it in neutral by holding in the button on the throttle lever while you move it forward, as if you were increasing your speed. This will allow you to rev the engine without moving forward. Test this in a safe way to be sure this is how your boat works, of course.

The idea is that you can pump the throttle while turning on the engine if you're having trouble starting it. For example, when you first start it after winter.

Is the knob below the switch part of a kill-switch line? Some boats have this. There's a clip that would attach to that point and then be tied to your life jacket. When you fall over and pull the line with you, the engine cuts off. Most people don't actually use this on pontoon boats.
posted by odinsdream at 11:13 AM on May 7, 2007

Here's the link for power squadron courses.

You should definitely take a course before leaving the dock for the first time, and it would be a good idea to have a live person go over your boat's controls with you, instead of mefites. Your local boatyard might be able to hook you up with someone.
posted by suasponte at 11:14 AM on May 7, 2007

When I drove a RIB with a central console, it was a simple as moving the throttle forwards from neutral to put it into gear, or backwards into reverse. You shouldn't be able to move the throttle into or out of gear without holding down a button. This prevents you from accidentally slamming it into reverse at high speed which would result in a very broken engine. At its default position, where you can't move it at all without holding down the red button, it's in neutral (be aware that the propeller can still turn in neutral so it's still dangerous for divers etc).

On some engines there'll be a knob to adjust trim — rotating the propeller vertically to adjust how high the bow points when planing. Whenever you drive your boat, you should use a kill cord — a wire that goes around your leg and kills the engine if you fall overboard. Driverless RIBs without kill cords have a nasty habit of turning a large circle and running over the man in the water. That said, have fun with your new boat!
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:16 AM on May 7, 2007

Yes, take a Power Squadron course. Despite the steering wheel, piloting a boat is nothing at all like driving a car, and when you make a mistake, you don't have brakes.
posted by mendel at 11:18 AM on May 7, 2007

Seconding sausponte, disagreeing with odinsdream (having owned over ten boats in my lifetime, several with this exact console scheme).
To start the boat properly and warm it up place the throttle in nuetral (the button on the bottom should click, rendering the throttle immobile). Raise the fast idle lever to its highest setting, turn the key. Let the boat sit in fast idle for a minute then lower the fast idle throttle gradually. Stop and re-raise it if the boat starts to sputter. When you can get the fast idle down to its original position, you can engage the throttle by holding the button on the bottom and pushing the throttle forwards slowly.

Seconding everyone who says "get thee to a boating class!". Essentials must be learned if you are to be responsible and safe.

Random suggestion: institute mandatory lifejacket rules for the young'uns. I was forced to wear one until the age of 12 while the boat was in motion. It's like a seatbelt, it only works if you wear it. Also, always have at least as many lifejackets on board as people. Small lakes may seem extremely safe, but don't let that lull you into doing stupid things.
posted by nursegracer at 11:24 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah. Definitely take a class. Boats keep going when you stop applying power, and that's rather uncomfortable for most people until they get used to it.

Plus, it's pretty easy for the inexperienced to get stranded, and there's all kinds of laws you need to comply with ... know all those beers you see people drinking while they're out on boats? Did you realize that you can get (depending on your state) an OWI while driving a boat and (again depending on state) it's exactly like getting a DUI and affects your license? Plus, the bouys and markers mean different things, and if you screw them up or don't know you could find yourself hung up on a sand bar or tear the bottom of the boat off on rocks that are clearly marked... to someone who's taken the class.
posted by SpecialK at 11:40 AM on May 7, 2007

Nthing the Power Squadron course. I took it at 12 (you could drive a boat in MI at 12 if you took it) and I think they should be mandatory for all operators of all ages, even PWCs.
posted by kcm at 11:49 AM on May 7, 2007

And yeah, I've never driven a boat (at least 10+, some small old outboards, some fancy inboards, some I/Os) with controls like odinsdream. nursegracer is correct.
posted by kcm at 11:52 AM on May 7, 2007

Nursegracer's lifejacket suggestion is a good one -- in fact, it is the law (at least in California).

Here is the Power Squadron, and if I were you I'd take the Coast Guard Auxiliary class also; I did and so did my kids, and it was enormously useful (also free). All sorts of things can go wrong on a boat, and even mooring is way harder than it looks. You wouldn't advise anyone to get behind the wheel of a car armed only with tips from AskMe; so not to come over all JudgeMe on ya, but just tooling around on your boat without way more knowledge than you can get here is a very bad idea.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:00 PM on May 7, 2007

Thanks all. Of course I'll be taking the course...I have two kids and don't consider myself irresponsible...(but who would admit it).
Get this...I'm up in Ontario. We have mandatory licensing for anyone using recreational boats under 18' . Meaning you need to be certified to drive a jetski, but not for a cabin cruiser. I'm taking the course anyway.
posted by badkarmaboy at 12:10 PM on May 7, 2007

A couple quick other notes I have just remembered: There is most likely a lock on your outboard that keeps it in the down position. Wake and reverse can cause major problems if your motor is not fully locked down when you are in motion. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of your boat's lowering and raising mechanism (they all seem to be different).
Make sure you get a good anchor based on what kind of ground is in that lake (eg a mushroom or a trowel etc) and how heavy your boat is. Make sure you have the proper amount of line to anchor wherever it may be necessary to do so, plus a whole lot of extra.

Kudos on getting a boat. I've learned a lot from living on boats as a child, and I'm sure you and your family will love it.
posted by nursegracer at 1:18 PM on May 7, 2007

Meaning you need to be certified to drive a jetski, but not for a cabin cruiser.

The general reasoning behind that is that jetskis killed an awful lot of people before the certification requirement was introduced, but cabin cruisers didn't.

It's sort of like needing to have a special license for a motorcycle, but just a regular G license to drive a 30' truck; a lot more people have jet skis and waterski boats, a lot more people use them irresponsibly, and it's a lot easier to cause injury, instead of just damage to property, with one. No-one thinks a 40' cabin cruiser is a cottage toy, but before certification, lots of people thought jet skis and runabouts were.
posted by mendel at 1:24 PM on May 7, 2007

The very important lesson number 1.

When docking, approach as slowly as you possible can stand, then cut that speed in half.

You can throw it into reverse at the last minute and slow it down, but the boat won't always respond in the way you're expecting or respond quickly enough.

I've spent many a day sailing boats this size or larger and this is by far the biggest risk to your boat on your first trip.
posted by 517 at 5:10 PM on May 7, 2007

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