5 Common Boating Mistakes

From boat ramp failures and launch plans gone wrong, to cruise ships colliding, there have been some pretty unbelievable mistakes caught on camera. Thankfully, most of us have the relief of knowing we won’t ever be at the helm of a big “whoopsie” like crashing a mega ship.

Have you ever made a memorable boating mistake? Repeat after me: It happens! And, it was probably a mistake that many other boaters have made, too. When it comes to common boating mistakes, whether it’s filed under user error, forgetting, or bonehead blunder, we all miscalculate from time to time.

Perhaps this list of common things to avoid will help us all to remember how to skirt a few boating mishaps this boating season. Let’s take a look.

Swamping the Bow

An easy way to blow a great afternoon is consistently swamping your friends who don’t want to be super wet sitting up on the bow seating of your boat. This often happens when you’re motoring quickly along and you see a larger wave up ahead and you stop suddenly to try to avoid what you think will be an uncomfortable bang. But what ultimately happens is you bury your bow in the wave and soak everyone sitting up front. Not to mention, people get seasick from all the stops and go!

Pro Tip: Practice smoothly taking appropriately-sized waves head-on, and take larger waves at a 45-degree angle.


Not buying boat-friendly toilet paper is a very common mistake that will definitely ensure a headache later. When you purchase a boat with a head, know how to flush it properly and what supplies should and should not be used to clean it.

Pro Tip: Before leaving the dock, explain, and explain again, how to operate the toilet (and what cannot go down) to anyone new to your boat. Everyone will appreciate the chance to avoid an embarrassing, expensive clog.

Not Seeing a Navaid

Miss a navigational marker and you might get turned around or even lost, but more likely, due to the oversight you may encounter unexpected shallow water or other underwater hazard and run aground. If you run aground, try to stay calm. Shift people and heavy boat gear away from where you’re lodged and put your engine in reverse to try to set your vessel free. You can even call out to another nearby boater to create a passing wake to help get your boat moving.

Pro Tip: Unlike driver’s ed and the driving test that deems someone safe to operate a vehicle, there is no mandatory boating test to drive a boat. Beyond the online safety courses that are required, it’s great to have one-on-one training with an experienced boater to learn the basics of boating navigation and tools.

Fouled Prop

Wrapping your propeller is easy to do with fishing lines, trap lines, boat lines, and all kinds of other debris found in the water. You’ll know you’ve wrapped your boat’s prop if the engine chokes down really hard, sounds different, you feel a vibration, or the boat isn’t moving and it should be! Your fun day of boating may be over unless you can unwrap the mess. For inboard boats, getting in the water or hiring a professional diver may be required.

A word to the wise: if you attempt to loosen a wrapped line by going slowly in reverse, it’s possible to bend your propeller shaft. However, if you’re operating an outboard motor, trim it up, remove the prop foul and consider yourself lucky…as long as you didn’t damage the prop in the process. For example, if you pull up a crab pot and it hits your prop, you could cut your prop or bend it, in which case, you’ll need a full prop replacement or tuning.

Pro Tip: If you drop a boat line in the water, never put the boat in gear until you retrieve the line.

Draining Your Battery

Another common boating mistake is leaving all the boat’s batteries on all day and winding up with all dead batteries later. When you’re not running your engine, make sure you’re only running one battery. A perfect example is when you get to the sandbar, turn the vessel’s battery switch from “ALL” to “ONE” – so when you burn your battery from cranking up the music, you can flip the battery switch to “ALL” or “TWO” and still have enough power to get home.

Pro Tip: Know if you have one battery or two and if you have a battery switch.

Final Thought

Common mistakes are going to happen, and it’s how we course correct from them that make us better boaters. We all learn from our goofs and sometimes they are the best stories. Though, hopefully after reading this list, you’ve learned a tip or two from other boaters’ mistakes! Stay safe and enjoy your day on the water.

Written by: Jennifer Burkett

Jenny is an avid boater who has worked in the marine industry for years. She developed a fondness for trawlers during her tenure at Kadey-Krogen Yachts and has an affinity for life-on-the-water, contributing articles regularly to Boat Trader, YachtWorld and boats.com. Originally from Chicago, she made her way to Maryland to escape the bone-chilling winter temperatures of the Midwest and to be close to the coastline. She's made Kent Island her home—a location that makes enjoying the Chesapeake Bay a part of her daily life.


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