Skip to main content
Original Issue

Family Outboarding


Americans loveboats, and unlike most love affairs this one has an impressive batch ofstatistics indicating just how strong it is. Last year during the peak season 7million boats carried an average of 20 million people onto the water eachweekend. Not many of them were as lavish as the cruisers shown here rafted upfor a swimming party. But these days even a modest outboard rig costs about$700, and the total annual outlay for all boating in the U.S. is $2 billion.There is one other notable statistic that concerns the pleasure boatman—theaccident rate. Although the number of boats on U.S. waters has increased almost300% in the past 15 years, accidents have increased only a little. Most of thisis due to plain good luck—the aquatic mob scenes on the big weekends have beenblessed by an absence of sudden storms. Some of it is due to the nature of thesport—a wise yachtsman who plans a trip for comfort, for convenience and forfun also plans for safety. For the fact is that fun boating is good boating. Tokeep it fun, to suggest good boating practices to the novice, and to remind theexpert, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has prepared a four-part series on the best ways toenjoy your boat, starting on the next page with ideas for the owners of 4.5million outboards.

Ten years ago,when Bill and Mike—the oldest of my four boys—and I launched a small outboardboat on the Rock River near our home in Rockford, Ill., the boys did not knowmuch about boats. Since then we have traveled well over 10,000 milestogether—fishing, water skiing and cruising. We have been down the Mississippiand the Missouri, across the Great Lakes, through the Bahamas and even over toCuba twice. I trust Bill and Mike in these small powerboats now; they havelearned how to handle themselves sensibly when they are aboard. And in teachingthem I have relearned some of the basic rules of good boating.

For example, lookat the drawing above, showing the five of us enjoying an afternoon swim.Everyone is relaxed, but there is no carelessness. Although the engine is off,I am at the wheel, ready to start the boat if it drifts too far from a swimmer.Mike, age 17, is using the boarding ladder instead of trying to scramble overthe high topsides. Seven-year-old Dan, who isn't a strong swimmer, is wearing alife jacket. The inner tube that Bill, 20, is tending, provides something for11-year-old Rick to rest on while he is waiting to come up the ladder. Theolder boys apply these practices by reflex now. The younger ones arc justbeginning to learn, and if I can instill in them the importance of beingsensible, I know they will have more fun out on the water in the yearsahead.

A sensibleattitude—common sense, we used to call it, until it was found to be souncommon—should be the basis of all boating pleasure. But coast guardsmen,harbor masters, and boating dealers agree that it is the hardest thing toinstill in a boat owner. In Miami some years ago I watched a novice boat buyerput down cash for a new runabout and engine. Then, without asking any questionsor waiting for instructions, he jumped aboard, started the engine and beganbacking out of the slip. There was, of course, no law to stop him; anyone canbuy a boat, and no driver's examination or pilot's license is yet required forpleasure craft. Before this particular tyro had moved a hundred yards he wasoverboard, floundering in the water, his boat spinning in the channel currents.Both were rescued, fortunately, but afterward the dealer made a remark that hasstayed with me ever since. "I don't get it," he said. "A guy mayspend months learning to fly a plane, but he'll gamble his comfort and safetythat he knows by instinct how to handle a boat."

I don't get it,either. Boating knowledge doesn't just come to a man; it's got to be learned,and then practiced. The most important lesson I've learned is that the more Iknow the more fun boating becomes. And, after all, unless a person is aprofessional fisherman, a Navy man or the captain of a ferry or tug there isnot one sensible reason to be out in a boat except to enjoy oneself. Boatingwithout know-how is not fun. Usually it's uncomfortable, sometimes it'sdangerous and always it's foolish. It is foolish because the means of acquiringboating knowledge is so readily available. The U.S. Power Squadrons, the CoastGuard Auxiliary, many YMCAs and some boat dealers offer free courses in waterskills and safety.

The time to beginbeing sensible is when first selecting a boat. Unfortunately there are unsafeboats sold every day; the best precaution against them is a reputable dealer.My first concern is where and how a boat will be used. For fishing I want abeamy boat that provides stability for people to move around when playing fish.On small inland lakes, where waters are generally calm, a flat-bottom boat isfine; but a flat bottom will have difficulty in the swell and chop of offshorefishing. Water skiing requires speed and power (25-horsepower minimum);round-chine hulls allow you to make fast turns without flopping over, and lowfreeboard affords easy recovery of skiers. For long-distance cruising, I lookfor high freeboard for security in rough weather.

I'm wary ofself-bailing plugs after twice seeing boats sunk at dockside in Florida becausethe owners forgot to close the plugs. A double transom or a well for mountingthe engine is essential; on a sudden stop a stern wave may swamp a boat withoutone. Flotation devices such as block Styrofoam are essential; without them mostpowerboats will sink if they capsize. And finally, don't let the glitter offancy chromework influence your choice of a boat. Chrome doesn't float and doesvery little to hold a boat together.

I tend to beconservative about engine horsepower. Low horsepower is cheaper and, I think,safer in the long run. The biggest engine I ever owned was 35-horsepower. Itpulled a water skier, got me where I was going and back, could be started byhand if the battery failed—in fact, it did everything a bigger engine would doexcept go faster. Analogies between boat engines and high-horsepowerautomobiles are as wrong as they are frequent. Boats are not like automobiles.Boats have no brakes. Boats turn from their source of power, the stern. A lightboat pushed to high speeds by an oversized engine is hard to control. I don'tcondemn big engines; a bigger boat needs a bigger engine. But let the men whomake the engines decide how big. Carl Kiekhaefer, president of the KiekhaeferCorporation, which developed the Mercury 100-horsepower outboard, says flatly,"We didn't build the 100 for wild-haired speed maniacs. We developed higherhorsepower, not to make boats go faster, but to give the public the extracomfort and safety of larger boats." The Outboard Boating Club of America,a research firm, affixes a plate specifying horsepower ranges and maximumweight load for each of their boats; Mercury dealers subscribe to the BoathouseBulletin Service, which recommends engine sizes according to boat model andwater conditions where the boat will be used. Other dealers have similarservices, but if none is available it is wise to write the manufacturer askinghis recommendations before buying an engine.

As a lawyer Iperhaps am more impressed than most people with the desirability of knowing therules of the road. The Federal Boating Act prescribes a fine up to $2,000, ayear in jail maximum or both for recklessly operating a boat. Unfortunately,the rules are not as clear as many jiffy boating pamphlets imply. It is trueenough that I am responsible for damage caused by my wake. True, when backingmy stern becomes my bow. And true, when my boat is passing yours or you areapproaching on my right, that the burden is on me to get out of your way. Butwhat happens if my wake damages your boat because you were tied up to a channelbuoy (a federal offense in itself)? Or if, when backing, my boat hits yours,and you're backing too? Or if we're in the New York Narrows and I have theright of way, but you're the Queen Mary'! In cases like these, the out-boardermust rely on the sensible attitude he has, hopefully, developed—meaning heshould move to avoid accident regardless who has right of way. Article 27 ofRules of the Road states: "In obeying and construing these rules due regardshall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision, and to any specialcircumstances which may render a departure from the above rules necessary inorder to avoid immediate danger."

Weatherconditions can make all the difference between a pleasant and a miserablecruise. A call to the weather bureau—or radio weather reports—will tell if atrip is worth starting. Once under way, Coast Guard storm flags (see page 75)serve as warnings to seek shelter. But even if the flags aren't up, the boysand I take no chances with wind and water. Thunderstorms can gather so fastthat they sometimes seem to rise right out of the water. And thoughthundersqualls rarely last more than an hour, they can be vicious. We've alsodiscovered that violent storms aren't the only danger: shallow-water lakes suchas Winnebago in Wisconsin kick up faster than deep waters and can cause troublein little more than a fresh breeze.

No matter whatkind of weather our boat has to get through, it is always fully equipped. Animproperly or inadequately equipped boat is not only a nuisance, it's againstthe law. Some form of lighting, for example, is required on all boats operatedafter sunset. A noise signaling device is not required—but all boats must maketheir presence known in fog (I carry a whistle for that purpose), and the CoastGuard on this point says cautiously, "Incase of accident or casualty, thecourts would undoubtedly give great consideration to any lack of such equipmentin fixing responsibility." The Federal Boating Act also establishesequipment requirements, but these are the minimum and many states have moreexacting regulations. In case of conflict the more demanding laws prevail:states can be more stringent than federal requirements but cannot be less.

Coast GuardManual 290 is the best guide to proper equipment and lighting specificationsfor all the different kinds of pleasure boats. The diagram on page 67 shows theequipment we carry on our own outboard runabout. Although our seat cushions arestuffed with flotation material, we don't consider them substitutes for lifejackets, since a seat cushion might be swept away just when it's needed. Allnonswimmers on our boat are required to wear life jackets from the time theycome aboard till they put both feet back on land; they wear them or they don'tgo. Case No. 5888 in the Coast Guard Accident Report tells why. A 19-year-oldnonswimmer wouldn't wear a life jacket because, he said, it made him appear asissy. He crossed his own wake at an estimated 25 to 30 miles an hour, and, thereport concluded, "He was thrown from his craft, and although he lost hislife, he was no sissy."

A word of warningon fire extinguishers: carbon tetrachloride, which leaves a residue of toxicvapors, no longer carries Coast Guard approval. The Coast Guard does approveCO[Sub 2], which is best for gasoline fires and not nearly as messy as othertypes. Our extinguisher is stowed up next to the controls, not aft by theengine. The stern, where gasoline is concentrated, is the most likely area forfire, and there is little comfort in having the fire extinguisher stowed awayin the middle of the flames.

After whathappened to us once in the Bahamas, we always try to carry an extra anchor. AtRose Island we were forced to tie up on the windward side of a tidewater dock(something to be avoided if at all possible), slept ashore and returned nextmorning to find our boat swamped. While we were sleeping, the wind carried theboat partially under the dock and one gunwale caught on the ledge of the pier.When the other gunwale lifted with the tide, the boat just rolled over. If wehad tied up with anchors to windward {see bottom diagram, page 68) this wouldnever have happened. There was one pleasant side to the incident, however,which showed the value of planning: our gear was floating near by, dry andsecure, in the rubber bags we used for packing.

Besidesmechanical matters—boat, engine, equipment—and weather, I try to plan anycruise around the people involved. When Mike and Bill were very young, forexample, a Sunday cruise bored them stiff; as an antidote we brought along abag of stones for them to chuck at floating logs—a small detail, but it keptthem busy and let the rest of us relax a bit more. Small children are not theonly ones who suffer from a day's run that is too long. Take one boat, fill itwith tired, hungry, sunburned people all wishing they were somewhere else andblaming the skipper, and you have a situation guaranteed to start a mutiny.Indeed, it may cause the kind of impatience and inattention that leads toserious trouble.

The worst mistakea pleasure-boat skipper can make is to overload his craft. Case No. 5318, CoastGuard Manual 357, says all that need be said about extreme overloading. It'scalled "Family Outing": 10 people in a 12-foot boat; no life jackets onboard; and the engine pushed the bow under water, drowning five children. EndCase 5318. Fortunately, most instances of overloading are less tragic thanthis, but they still are to be avoided. For example, while there may be plentyof room in an 18-foot boat for the boys and me to take a simple morning ride,five of us in the same boat, all trying to cast bass plugs, are about two toomany. A boat can be underloaded too. Water skiing calls for two people aboardat all times: one drives, the other watches the skier. On Rock River once I sawa fellow trying to do both. At 35 knots he turned to look at the skier and ranhis boat head on into a bridge abutment.

When planning anovernight cruise, call ahead to make sure of accommodations, especially at thebeginning and end of a season. A friend of mine once took off without botheringto check, and after cruising all day with his family he arrived at a marinathat was locked up for the winter. They slept on the boat in a cold autumnrain; saddest of all, an open marina was waiting just a few miles farther on.On any cruise, regardless of length, besides checking ahead, it's a good ideato leave an itinerary behind: number of people, size of boat, destination,route and expected arrival time. If no one knows you are going somewhere, noone is going to look for you when you don't show up.

Anything longerthan an overnight cruise requires more detailed preparation. Bill, Mike and Ispent the entire winter and spring planning our last long-distance cruise.First we had to select a trip that would be within our capabilities. TheColorado River was considered and discarded because the rapids are too rugged.A trip via New Orleans and Miami to the Potomac was ruled out because it wouldhave called for too many miles per day.

After more studyof wind and water conditions, average length of daily runs and possiblediversions along the way, we picked a cruise across the Great Lakes via theTrent-Severn Waterway to the St. Lawrence, the Richelieu, Lake Champlain andthe Hudson; these last are part of the Triangle cruise (SI, May 7). The U.S.Army Corps of Engineers supplied us with inexpensive, large-scale navigationalcharts. Major oil companies publish waterway maps that show the location ofgasoline facilities. Since each oil company is naturally reluctant to point outcompetitors' pumps, we wrote to all the companies.

The next matterwas equipping the boat. As a safety factor we stowed aboard a 5-horse auxiliaryengine, a transom bracket for fitting it and a kit of spare parts, includingelectrician's tape, points, condenser, ignition coil and sparkplugs. We alsoput aboard a battery-powered lamp for nighttime chart reading—since buoys havea habit of moving, I refer to charts constantly for depths, obstructions,proper buoy locations and landmarks. We picked up a couple of inflatable innertubes that doubled as swim floats and dock fenders, and packed extrasunglasses, sun lotion and burn ointment.

We checked thecharted locations of all radio stations against the range of our portableradio. Besides giving weather reports, a radio can be used as a rough directionfinder by rotating it to find the strongest signal from two or threestations.

Finally, we hadto ready the boat itself, which had been in the backyard all winter. Welaunched it into Rock River, marked the hull where the water came in, hauledthe boat out and calked it, then filled it with water until the seams swelledand closed. Then came a stem-to-stern cleaning (we discovered half a dozenloose screws we might not have found otherwise) and a new coat of paint, with ahandful of sand scattered on the foredeck while the paint was wet for nonslipfooting.

The weekendbefore our departure date, we put our gear aboard and took a 25-mile trial runto set the engine at the proper angle for the boat's weight load, to make finalequipment checks and to give us an opportunity to regain the feel of handlingthe boat after the winter layoff.

It is easy toforget, for example, how quickly mooring lines can become fouled in thepropeller blades. When dropping a mooring, back off until the buoy comes insight and move clear of it slowly (6-mile-per-hour speed limits prevail in manymooring areas). Casting off from a dock, stern lines should be aboard or up onthe landing before backing or going ahead. The other basic rules for handling aboat around a dock are shown in the diagrams and drawings on pages 68, 72 and73.

Once under way,the same sensible attitude will keep you comfortable and out of trouble. I havewarned Bill and Mike not to come near swimmers or skin-divers with whirlingpropeller blades. And when we are swimming ourselves the engine is always off.If it's on, even in neutral, an accidental bump could start the blades turning.When water skiing, we use the standard signals shown on page 74, but for peoplelike myself, who live relatively inactive lives the rest of the year, waterskiing is a surprisingly exhausting sport. I wear a skier's float belt andretire at the first feeling of fatigue.

I never gamble onmy boat's ability to run through a storm. If there is any question whether ourboat can handle the existing water conditions, we lay over till the weatherclears. If we are out on the water when the weather turns bad we try to seekshelter before the storm gets worse—occasionally we get caught in a stiffbreeze or a minor squall. As long as the waves aren't breaking and the hullstays sound, we run the engine at a crawl, taking the waves on either bow. Ifthe sea builds and we're stuck in it, Bill breaks out the life jackets and foulweather gear, Mike throws out a sea anchor to keep us heading to weather, weplace ourselves in the lowest part of the boat and we hang on to enjoy theride. If you have no sea anchor, a bailing bucket makes a good substitute; in apinch, any object that creates drag will help. Off Eleuthera in the Bahamasonce the boys made a workable sea anchor by buttoning an ordinary shirt to forma bag. If we ever should turn over—something that hasn't happened yet—we willstick with the boat, even tie ourselves on if necessary. The shore is alwaysfarther away than it looks, and rescuers can spot a capsized hull easier thanthe head of a man swimming.

Although everyboatman has his personal preferences among anchors, we have found the variouspatent anchors, such as the Danforth, better for a variety of bottom conditionsthan a light mushroom. Of course, a heavy mushroom like the one shown on page71 is perfect for a permanent mooring. However, without sufficient scope (i.e.,enough anchor line in the water) no anchor will hold securely. The minimum isfive times the depth of the water, and if there is a good wind or a strong tiderunning, nine times the depth is not too much.

An anchor shouldbe dropped in gently. If it is heaved out it may foul in the line and fail toset. Besides, an ankle tangled in an anchor line is the fastest way overboard.Once anchored, take a bearing on a stationary landmark, then check itperiodically to see if the boat is drifting. At night, before turning in, wealways set a dragging anchor alarm, a weighted line over the side to thebottom, with the other end tied to a rock-filled tin can in the cabin. If theboat is dragging, the can topples, and the clatter awakens us before we candrift into trouble.

The sensibleattitude should prevail on all cruises until everyone is safely ashore for thelast time. Many a brave man has dampened an otherwise happy day by a climacticleap for the dock—which was still six inches too far away. Others have hurriedthe mooring process, saving perhaps two minutes but losing $2,000 when the boatworked loose and drifted off in the night. These are silly mistakes, but theyare made by the thousands every day of the boating season. My two oldest sons,Bill and Mike, have learned to avoid most of them. Rick and Dan, with a littletime and a little practice, will learn good boating habits, too, and, likeanyone else, will then derive even greater pleasure from their boating.

How to Approach a Dock

(heavy arrows show wind and current)

With wind or current on stern, make a 180° turn,bringing bow into weather, with a narrow angle between boat and dock. Securebowline first; then let stern drift in.

With wind coming off dock, approach at wide angle andsecure bowline. Then ease ahead, with rudder turned away from dock; stern willgradually be drawn in.

When wind blows onto dock, bring bow up (top), letwind lay boat against dock; or (bottom) drop bow anchor, ease boat back tillstern line can be secured.

With breeze dead ahead, move in parallel to dock,gradually slowing engine and letting weather act as additional brake. Make fastbowline, then get stern line out.

In heavy weather, if windward dock is unavoidable, usetwo anchors. Set stern anchor, move ahead to set bow anchor, then let windcarry boat into berth.

Next Week: Small Sailboats

Sail maker Lowell North of San Diego, three-timewinner of the world Star boat championship, tells how to keep a class boat inthe best condition for fast, safe, comfortable sailing.

Signposts of Water Safety

Channel buoys (shown right with corresponding nauticalchart symbols) indicate proper course and warn of navigational hazards.Proceeding into port or upstream, keep red, even-numbered buoys to starboard,black, odd-numbered buoys to port. Black-and-white vertical stripes indicatecenter of channel: pass buoy close by on either side. Red-and-black horizontalbands mean obstructions: red top, keep buoy on right; black top, keep it onleft. Obstruction buoys shown here are cans; other common buoy shapes are: (1)unlighted whistle or horn, (2) lighted bell or gong, (3) nonsounding light, (4)lighted whistle or horn, (5) unlighted bell or gong, (6) nun, (7) spar. Stormsor collisions sometimes move buoys. Use them as references to charts, whichshow depth, obstructions.

Storm warnings (above) are flown from yacht clubs,Coast Guard stations. Red pennants or red-and-black flags by day, red and whitelights at night warn of high winds. Top to bottom: Small Craft (winds to 38mph), Gale (to 54 mph), Whole Gale (to 72 mph), Hurricane (72 mph and up).Check weather reports before setting out. If flags go up while you are out,seek shelter immediately; but don't wait for flags, since they seldom go upbefore sudden storms.

Skin-diver's flag, red square with white diagonal,means diver is below. Avoid the area. If approach is necessary, warn diver'sboat; go slow and, when near, kill engine.

Special-purpose buoys (shown above with nautical chartsymbols) may be any standard shape. Color markings always identify them. Yellowbuoys mean quarantine areas; buoys marking anchorages are white.Black-and-white horizontal bands warn offish nets. Orange-and-white buoysindicate firing ranges or other areas not keyed by specific colors.Green-and-white buoys show dredging operations.

Intracoastal waterway markers on regular ICW channelare identified by yellow bands or borders (above). Proceeding south alongAtlantic coast or west along Gulf Coast, keep red to starboard, black to port.When ICW joins another waterway, buoys serve both systems (bottom row) and redmay be to left, black to right. Look then for yellow triangles and squares onbuoys; heading south or west, leave triangles to starboard, squares toport.



Essential equipment for small powerboats includes: (I) float belt for water skiers, (2) bailing bucket, (3) 100 feet of spare ‚Öú-inch nylon line, (4) hand-operated bilge pump, (5) 100 feet of ‚Öú-inch nylon anchor line, (6) first aid kit, (7) patent anchor, such as Danforth shown here, (8) high-collared life jacket with cinch belt for each person aboard, (9) noisemaking device for signaling, (JO) tool kit including sparkplug wrench (inset) and replacements for all sparkplugs, (11) portable fuel tank, (12) flashlight, (13) CO[sub 2] fire extinguisher, (14) dock fenders, (15) paddle, (16) compass, (17) running lights: combination green-red bow light, each color visible from one mile dead ahead to two points abaft the beam; aft, one 360° white light visible two miles, (18) bow and stern lines.
























Permanent moorings, to be safe, must he set to withstand heaviest weather. Specifications shown here are minimum safety requirements for a 25-foot motorboat moored in 10 feet of water to withstand winds up to 75 miles per hour. Mooring pennant (A) should be 20 feel long, of one-inch Manila or¾-inch nylon spliced to buoy (B); 3/8-inch chain (C) shackled to bottom of buoy should measure 20 feet and must be swivel-shackled at bottom to 30 feet of 7/8-inch heavy chain (D). End of heavy chain is shackled to 225-pound mushroom anchor (E). Total scope: 70 feet. Best sources of specifications for moorings of all types is Charles Chapman's Piloting Seamanship and Small Boat Handling (MoToR BoatinG, $5).








To replace shear pin broken when outboard propeller hits submerged object, first remove cotter pin and pull off nose cone (A). Prop (B) then slides off shaft (C), exposing broken shear pin (D). Push out damaged pin with new pin and reassemble.







Making fast to docks affected by tide and wind requires variety of techniques. Simple bow-stem tie-up (top left) is only for brief stops, since outgoing tide may leave boat hanging on short dock lines. When two lines must share one piling (inset), latecomer should pull loop up through yoke of other line before dropping over piling; thus either line can be removed without disturbing the other. When permanent pulley-on-post is available (second from top), pick up sash-weighted bowline, move back to clock and go ashore. Then, when bow and stern are equidistant from piling and dock, make stern lines fast. For permanent parallel tie-up, leave bow and stern lines slack and put out diagonal spring lines from bow chock to stern piling and vice versa. Springs will keep boat same distance from dock during tidal rise and fall. For temporary diagonal tie-up (lower left), make stern line fast on quarter nearest dock to hold boat away in case of shift in wind or current. Casting off' from weather side of dock (sequence at right in picture), take off stern line and move ahead against bowline, using right rudder to force stern away from dock. Mate then casts off bowline and comes aboard. Next (2), back slowly; action from single prop will draw backing boat to port, giving further stern clearance. With mate seated (3), move ahead slowly until stern clears dock and boat is out of mooring area.








Water Skiing Signals