Whether you’re new to boating or have years of experience, there’s always something to learn when it comes to boat driving.

Driving a boat is great fun. Compared to driving a car, boats allow so much more freedom. There are no lanes, no traffic jams and no road rage. However, while there are no lanes, and no seat belts, there are still rules and it takes some skill to drive a boat safely. Over the following pages, let’s look at some common mistakes and how to become a better boat driver while still having loads of fun on the water.

Follow the rules

Depending on what state (or territory) you’re in, you most likely need a boat licence to operate a boat over a certain speed. To obtain that licence you would have sat a test and perhaps done a practical component and provided a log book to prove a certain amount of hours at the helm.

It can be dangerous on the water and having a good understanding of the rules is essential. Rules are there to keep you and others safe! Speed limits, for example, are usually implemented where there are hazards in the water or in busy areas where the risk of collision is increased. One of my local waterways is narrow and has its fair share of submerged rocks. Hitting one of these rocks at speed would be very dangerous and that’s why you should trust the speed limit to keep you and your passengers safe. If you are ever in doubt, seeking the assistance of a professional trainer or boating school is a great idea.


Trim refers to the angle of the engine in the water. A fully “trimmed down” engine will sit vertically in the water, while a fully “trimmed up” engine will sit at around 45 degrees with the propeller out of the water. Many beginner, and experienced boaters alike, still simply trim the engine down  after launching and forget about it for the remainder of the day.

When you launch, it should be trimmed up to avoid damaging the propeller or engine as you’re launching. The same applies to driving to and from the boat ramp. Once the boat is reversed into the water, trim down so the propeller sits below the surface and start the engine. Some ramps are shallow and others are deep. The angle of trim should reflect this. Either drive or push off the trailer and move the boat away from the ramp towards the wharf. Check that you have sufficient water depth and trim the engine fully down. Once you’re ready to increase speed, leave the engine in the trimmed down position. Having a trimmed up engine will cause the bow to lift and cavitation may occur around the engine.

Once you’re on the “plane”, you can start trimming your engine up. Your bow will increase slightly and so will your speed. Most boats have a trim gauge. Carefully watch it and increase the trim somewhere between half and three quarters. Each boat is different and it takes some trial and error. You should have it high enough so your boat rides with an elevated bow, but not too high so you lose control and experience cavitation when air enters around the propeller.

Wind and current

Now that you understand trim, let’s look at another aspect of boat driving, understanding wind and current. This is particularly usefulat the ramp while driving at slow speeds. It’s often the area where most people land themselves in trouble.

All saltwater areas have tidal influence, some more than others. In the freshwater, while you don’t have tides, you do have wind and that has a similar effect.

Greg Reid is a former professional fishing guide and marine consultant with a lifetime of professional boat driving experience.

Reid says tide and current are two of the most overlooked factors in basic boat driving. “Understanding the relationship between wind and tide is particularly useful at the ramp,” says Reid. “Always approach coming into the tide. Use it to your advantage. You will have better steerage and it slows you down nicely,” he says.

Reid also advises new boaties to “point and shoot”, meaning to steer your boat in the intended direction before accelerating. This also applies at the wharf or when driving your boat onto the trailer.

Another tip for launching and retrieving or manoeuvring around wharves is to keep the speed low. It may seem obvious, but if you do hit the wharf accidentally, you won’t damage your boat and no one will be hurt. It also pays to watch your fingers around wharves. Wind and wash can smash the boat against the wharf and cause serious injury.

Maritimo’s pre-delivery manager and head skipper, Isaac Marshall, agrees that paying attention to wind and current is an important skill. It’s a skill that covers all boat sizes, styles and locations.

“Orientation of the boat in any weather is fundamental,” says Marshall. “It starts when you launch your boat at the ramp, and for bigger boats, when leaving the dock. On the water, when you anchor, are you taking into account the direction of tide and wind?

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