Is Boating Alone Dangerous?

Boating can be a fun activity to share with family and friends, but some people prefer to boat alone. Although the perils of the sea may be amplified during a solo sail, individuals who adhere to a strict safety regimen can enjoy solitary seafaring without too many risks. Here’s what you need to know about boating alone.

Boating alone made this teenager famous

Robin Lee Graham, 18, holds his ginger tabby cat, Avanga, aboard his 24-foot sloop in 1967
Robin Lee Graham, 18, holds his ginger tabby cat, Avanga, aboard his 24-foot sloop in 1967 | Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

In 1965, 16-year-old Robin Lee Graham set sail from Long Beach, California, on a solo adventure that took him around the globe with only cats for companionship. His solitary voyage on his 24-foot sloop, Dove, lasted five years and was documented by National Geographic.

In 2017, Graham sat with Sail magazine for an interview in which he explained he’d had plenty of blue-water sailing experience and could navigate before setting out on his 33,000-mile circumnavigation.

“I had a lot of experience before I set sail. I could navigate, was a competent sailor, and already had a lot of bluewater experience cruising with my family. I had the strong desire to do it and knew I was capable of doing it.”

Robin Lee Graham via Sail magazine

How you can stay safe when boating alone

Boating magazine offers the following safety tips for savvy seafarers who wish to pilot a watercraft by themselves:

  • Always wear a life jacket
  • Keep a personal locator on your belt
  • Make sure your motor has a kill switch
  • Install a built-in boarding ladder that a swimmer can reach

Throwing a net, catching fish, and setting an anchor are situations that become more hazardous when nobody else is around to render aid. That’s why it’s important to wear a life vest at all times, Sea Tow Foundation advises.

A battery-operated personal locator device can send electronic mayday and homing signals to the Coast Guard if you get in trouble while boating alone. Be sure to register your device with the NOAA to provide proper assistance, Boating magazine says.

Designed to prevent runaway vessels, an engine cut-off switch (ECOS) can be a lifesaver for any helmsman who goes overboard when a boat is in motion. Also known as a safety stop lanyard, this safety device is Coast Guard-required for recreational vessels measuring less than 26 feet long, MSN reports.

Anyone who’s ever gone overboard knows how hard reboarding can be. This troublesome task is compounded when there’s nobody there to assist. That’s why standards set by the American Boat and Yacht Council require that boatbuilders incorporate a means to reboard, unaided from water level. If your boat doesn’t have a water-level swim step, add one before venturing out alone.

A step-by-step guide to launching alone

Before you can go boating alone, you’ll have to get your vessel into the water. Without help, this can be a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. Wired2Fish offers a three-point plan to launch your boat without assistance:

  1. Pull your trailer to the side of the dock, engage the brakes, and prepare everything before approaching the ramp. Remove the back transom straps and the motor stabilizer. Insert the drain plug, and tilt the engine upward to avoid prop damage during launch.
  2. Reverse your tow vehicle down the ramp until you reach the water’s edge, shift the vehicle into park, and set the parking brake. Leave the winch strap attached while unhooking the safety chain from your boat’s bow. Ensure the ratchet pawl is flipped to move only counterclockwise; then strip about two feet of the strap from the front winch without unhooking it.
  3. Disengage your tow vehicle’s brakes, and slowly and carefully back your boat into the water. Once the boat floats, shift your vehicle into park, re-engage the parking brake, and exit the vehicle. Step on the tongue of the trailer and unhook the winch strap. Give the boat a shove off the trailer, climb in, and tie your vessel to a nearby dock. Disembark, park your tow vehicle, and climb back aboard to enjoy a day of solo boating.

Spending time alone on the water, whether to fish, sightsee, or relax, can be a wonderful experience. Just follow the above rules to ensure your safe return.

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