Welcome To My Boat

  It's more than fishing ... it's a way of life.

Welcome To My Boat

 Just as there is no perfect guest there is no perfect host.  The best guest on a boat behaves in a manner that allows the host (owner/captain) to lead a successful trip; good fishing and good times.  But, the captain can only do so much to make a trip a success.  He/she (from now on I will use the conventional he) can make sure the boat is clean, in good repair, and properly equipped with plenty of fuel.  The captain should know the rules of the road, speed limits, channels etc., and, if he also knows where the fish are and how to catch them, all-the-better. The captain has no control over weather, tides and other things that may affect the catch so guests should be prepared to appreciate the experience and hope next time is more productive.

Englewood Florida is one of the “fishingest” places in the “fishingest” State in the USA.  The water is here, the fish are here and the resources to enhance fishing are all here too.  We have boat dealers, marinas, boat ramps, tackle shops, charter and party boats.  We also have the Englewood Fishing Club Inc., one of the most successful fishing clubs in Florida.  One of the best benefits of membership in the club is the chance to go out on experienced members’ boats as a guest.

            Some of the over 300 species of fish in our waters are accessible from beaches, jetties, docks etc.  Most are not.  Wade fishing on the flats, fishing from a kayak or rowboat can get you better access. But to get to where most of the fish are a larger boat is needed.  The most popular design is the center-console boat, which, if the Bimini is down, allows fighting fish from any point on the boat.  Shallow draft flats boats, medium draft bay-boats and deep-vee hull offshore boats all have their special uses.  Choosing which boat is best for you, depends on experience.  Going out either on a friend’s boat or booking a trip on a Charter Captain’s boat for harbor or Gulf fishing can be time and money well spent.  Using the gear provided you can get a good sense of what works for a particular kind of fishing.  If ultimately fishing offshore is what is best for you, you don’t want to buy a flats boat.

            This article is intended to make you an informed guest who will be invited back.  It is based on my years as a Safe Boating Instructor with the US Power Squadron, on my years of taking people fishing, and on the pleasure I have had fishing on my friend’s boats. If you plan to boat in our waters the time and money spent on a Safe Boating Course could be one of the smarter things you have ever done.  Courses are offered by The US Power Squadrons and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. You will learn for example why many male drowning victims are found with their flies open!  (more on that later)

            If you take a safe boating course you should learn the custom of asking the Captain’s permission to board.  “Permission to come aboard sir”, may seem old fashioned and even silly, but it communicates your recognition of the Captain’s authority and responsibility.  It says you know who is in charge, and that you will respect that authority.  Things can happen quickly on a boat.  Some of them are bad.  Following direction can be critical.  Asking “why” will wait until the problem has been dealt with.

            It is a very good idea to have time to sit down with the captain to ask questions about the trip he has planned what you should bring, and what is expected.  This article is intended as a guide on what questions you should ask.

            Please consider however the circumstances under which you are asking the questions.  When I have a guest meeting me at my home I always plan to have the boat trailer hooked up, and all the gear and bait on board, before the guest arrives.  There are very few things which can be forgotten without compromising the trip, and I am no good at chatter and remembering stuff.  The same is true at the launch site, both coming and going, and when we return home.  The time for the questions is while we are on the road, or during waiting time at the ramp.

One of the most important things a captain should do is file a “float plan” (see attached) with someone who will know when the trip has gone over schedule.  The plan does not have to be very formal, but should include the approximate schedule and destination.  If plans change a call to alter the plan is wise.  As a guest you should provide your personal on-shore contact with phone numbers to use to check if anything has gone wrong if the trip is running late.

            Do not assume that beer is acceptable on-board.  Florida is in some ways a very permissive state.  That does not include operating a boat under the influence.  Most of the most serious, even fatal, boating accidents involve alcohol.  A clear head is critical to safe boating.  If you want to drink and fish, find a pond and fish from the bank.

            Once you are aboard his boat the captain should show you around.  You should know where the life jackets are stowed, where the fire extinguisher is, where the bait well and live well are, where to stow your gear etc. etc.  The captain may also review his trip plans.  Where is he headed, and how long you will be underway.  He will also tell you some special rules he may have.  For example; I always tell guests to move around the center console facing inward with a good sense of where your next hand-hold will be.  It is very easy to fall overboard face first when the only thing preventing it is a knee high rail.  I also request them to not leave anything on the deck.  Rods should be in rod holders, and tackle boxes properly stowed after use.

            The share of the trip’s cost you are expected to pay should be discussed before you finalize plans.  A captain who is not a Coast Guard licensed Captain cannot legally profit from taking paying passengers on his boat.  But he can take money as a share of his cost.  I usually expect people I invite to only pay for the bait and ice we require.  If the trips become a regular event I will accept money for fuel and such.  I do not try to pay for the boat, insurance or maintenance.  If someone asks me to take them out I will accept money for fuel.  I have had an occasion where an owner asked me to go on his boat to help him try out some new gear.  We did not catch anything worthwhile, the trip was a waste of my time, and he had his hand out when we got back to the dock.  I was not happy.

            If you are going fishing in salt water you should have a copy of salt water regulations and you should be very familiar with them.  Do not plan on keeping your catch if you have not confirmed it is legal to do so.  The Captain may be busy when you boat a fish, if you aren’t sure of the species, and the rules, either release it, or quickly confirm with the captain that it is a legal catch.  The captain will be held responsible for any fish in the “box” even if he did not know it was there, and fines are high in Florida for illegal fish.  Also, do not lift fish you cannot keep from the water by the head, and do not keep an illegal fish out of the water any longer than necessary.

            Boats under twenty feet usually do not have a head.  Peeing over the side is not exactly legal and certainly not safe (flies open on drowning victims!).  I carry containers which are safe and hygienic and dumping them, while not really legal, is necessary. Urine from a healthy person contains no germs.  The best a “headless” boat can offer for other business is a bucket.  A few inches of water in the bucket can make dumping more practical, but since poop floats it is best to not have to use the bucket.  A modest pre-trip menu can reduce the need for the bucket, so do not eat heartily at Taco Bells before the trip.

            Even the most modest chop can bring on motion sickness in some people.  Using a legitimate motion sickness prevention product like Bonine or Dramamine can keep you off the rail.  One of my guests blew chunks, and his upper plate, into fifty feet of water.  And, a couple of my guests got woozy enough to be unable to fish - we shortened the trip.  Also, if you have special health concerns please make sure the Captain knows.   Provision can be made for assistance, and accommodation in most cases.  I did have one acquaintance who asked me if a friend of his could join us for an off-shore trip.  His friend was barely able to walk his bulk up my driveway, got sick a mile offshore and popped the screws on a seat. 

            Sunblock is a must for most of us.  Bring your own small container, apply it properly and wash your hands afterward.  The solvent in some products will dissolve all sorts of stuff, and the fish do not like it. 

            Plan on bringing a modest amount of lunch, or snack food, and bring enough water in small containers.  Do not decide to treat the whole crew by carrying a hamper full of goodies which will just get in the way.  Even in the summer I carry only two bottles of water and an apple.  I never stop at restaurants when I could be fishing, but that’s just me.  Wear a hat, sunglasses, pants and shirt which can limit sun exposure.  Keep hydrated!  Heat prostration is a real concern and preventable.  It can be very serious.

            I prefer to provide the gear we will need if my guest is inexperienced in the kind of fishing we will be doing.  I had one friend bring along a huge tackle box full of stuff well suited for lake fishing “back home” when we were going to be bottom fishing bait in the Gulf.  I helped him put it back in his car.

            Do not plan on bringing home fish if the trip is catch and release.  Some captains are extra tidy and not want fish gurry on the boat.  Others just don’t eat fish but may have no objections to you keeping some part of the legal catch.  Find out if you should bring a cooler, and ice, or if the captain will have an iced box.  If you do plan on keeping fish you should either plan on taking them home on-ice to fillet, or plan on using a fish cleaning station on shore.  Not all of my friends have mastered the fillet knife, but they have learned how to scrub my boat.  I clean fish, they clean the boat.  If the catch is limited I will dip into my freezer to make sure they don’t go home empty handed. 

            I hope this article has served its purpose to better prepare you to be a very good guest.  I have offered my opinions based on my experience.  Anyone is free to have a different opinion.  I will be glad to hear any comments you have at a fishing club meeting, or I can be reached at (941) 445-2087, or Email halvor1234@live.com.

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