One of the most common things we do around boats is fall out of them. A marine patrol officer said most drowning victims have their zippers down when their bodies are recovered. If you’re going to drown, at least do it zipped up. 


When you have bad fuel, you have bad engine response and sometimes you run into log jams and then water comes in over the stern. This wreck was on the Salcha River near Fairbanks, Alaska. 


A couple of guys went steelheading  on a Saturday. I wanted to go, but I was too little, so I heard about it afterward.

They headed downriver around an island. It was a new boat, they were on new water. Chasing steelhead. A couple of bankies were waving their hands. The guy at the tiller slowed down. What was that?



They were saying, “Don’t go that way! Big rock!” The two guys held a quick consultation and decided the bankies were trying to trick them. The guy at the tiller rolled the power on and went around the corner to bash a bathtub-size dent on a big rock in the middle of the narrow channel.

My dad was the guy at the tiller, but anyone who has owned a boat has an embarrassing story.

Several of the boats I have owned were embarrassing just sitting in the driveway. Here is a list of boating mistakes people make every day.



Hit the dock too hard. Watch an experienced captain drive a boat up next to a dock and cut the engine, using the wind and current to glide right in. It’s a thing of beauty. But fifty percent of the time, the current and the wind are against you and it’s a thing of entertainment. For anyone watching.

The hardest boat I ever drove was a twin-engine houseboat. In fact, fellow outdoor scribe Terry Sheely and I took turns on that trip. But it was my job to get it into the mouth of a tiny harbor. The wind was blowing 20-miles-per and the boat acted like a big sail. I barely kept it off the rocks while everyone watched.



Misjudging the weather. Once on Crane Prairie Reservoir, we launched a canoe on the west shore and paddled out. By the time we were in the standing timber, the wind was howling and the whitecaps were up. Water was coming in over the sides. We blew to shore and I ended up walking halfway around the lake to get the vehicle. Misjudge the depth. I’ve done it out in the middle of the Columbia. It’s a good way to meet your fellow boaters. And get them to tow you off a mud flat.

Once I saw a couple of gray-haired guys with a new 16-foot Hewes Craft. They were backed almost down to the water, trying to shove her off the trailer from dry land into the river. They never thought to watch someone else launch a boat or ask for advice.



There were a few of us gathered around. It was great fun. Eventually they figured out the trailer was supposed to go in the water so the boat would float off. We saw them later with their anchor line wrapped all the way around the boat. They got the motor shut off before the rope sucked into the pump.

Speaking of the boat ramp . . . This is one of the best places to collect your own embarrassing moments. My last one happened a couple of years ago when I backed Joe Warren’s trailer off the ramp and hung a tire on the concrete, letting the air out of said tire. Red face.


Here is one way to break-in a new boat. 


Forget to secure the boat. There is a lot going on at a boat ramp. Remember to strap that boat to the trailer or to the top of the vehicle. Once, I used the wrong kind of straps. You should ask my wife about picking up her kayak off the highway.

Use the wrong fuel. It’s easy to get the wrong fuel in the boat’s tank. This happened to me in a borrowed boat on Crescent Lake. I was fishing with a nice couple. We had bad fishing to start, but the fellowship was good. The conversation stalled when the motor quit working. That was on the far side of the lake. It was a long, long limp back to the dock with the trolling motor, with frequent pauses to let the battery juice come back up enough to turn the prop.



There is a good chance that E-zero, the Ethanol-free fuel we use in any marine mo-tor that is more than a couple of years old could be going away. Our politicians have saddled us with burning corn (which used to be considered food) in our engines. The Federal mandate requires a conversion to Ethanol. More than 90 percent of the fuel available at pumps is E10, which doesn’t work in marine systems because of phase separation. Buy the wrong fuel and your face is going to be red. Average cost for repairs caused by poor fuel is $1,000.

Use the wrong lifejacket. If you have a boat, keep child-size jackets on board. A child in a lifejacket that is too big is in just as much danger as if they didn’t have one.




Get a grip. One time fishing the near-flood stage Cowlitz with friends, it was time for my dad to get out of the boat and swing his Spey rod from shore. Our guide (and friend) assured me and my dad that it was a safe place to climb out. I protested three times, but the captain was so sure it was a good spot that dad jumped out and went in up to his neck. Fortunately dad was raised on a farm and had a good grip earned from milking cows. He kept a tight hold on the side of the boat with one hand and that’s what kept him from being swept under the boat and out into the main current.


Bottoms up on the Upper Klamath.


Fall out. One of the most common things we do around boats is fall out of them. A marine patrol officer said most drowning victims have their zippers down when their bodies are recovered. If you’re going to drown, at least do it zipped up.



One of the best things the prospective boat owner can do is take a boating course. The BoatUS Foundation offers a free online course that satisfies the Oregon State Marine Board requirement. It will save you from those red-faced moments.

You can collect a boatload of other people’s embarrassing memories. Trust me, it’s more fun to tell their stories than your own.




Gary Lewis is the author of Oregon Lake Maps and Fishing Guide, by Frank Amato Publications. To contact Lewis, visit www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.





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1 comment

I had an old gas tank on my 14 foot aluminum boat fishing on the St. Clair River. My wife and I were motoring back to the launch at dark with the fuel gauge reading a solid third of a tank full. Well the old gauge was wrong…we ran out of gas. Ever trying rowing upstream while dodging freighters?


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