Some problems are unavoidable for power boaters—as long as you perform regular maintenance no one can blame you for a faulty water pump impeller, or a jammed thermostat. But we bring other issues upon ourselves, and “oops” is an all too common word in our helter-skelter multi-tasking world. If you’re a power boater, look out for these 10 top blunders.

boat mistakes

This boat's owner clearly made a slight error in judgement. Don't let boating mistakes like his ruin your summer.


1. Putting fuel into the water fill, or vise-versa – This is one big mistake, because it will cause serious damage that costs a pretty penny to fix. So check and double-check, before you pull the trigger on that pump. And trailer-boaters, beware: many of you folks have been known to reach up overhead and slide the nozzle into a rod holder by accident. If you manage to put gas into a diesel boat and it explodes as a result, you get double dummy-points.

2. Getting lost – Back in the dark ages of charts and compasses you might have had some passable excuse, but in this day and age, you don’t. GPS has come down in price so significantly that if you can afford to fill the fuel tank, you can afford to have a GPS at the helm plus a back-up handheld unit in case the first one fails. That’s not even considering the fact that most of us have GPS-equipped phones in our pockets, right now.

3. Running aground – If you haven’t run aground yet, you probably haven’t been boating for very long. This is one of the most common boating blunders and it’s so easy to do, we almost feel bad for bringing it up. But, it’ll still make you look like an idiot to everyone aboard, so steer clear of those shoals, Gilligan.

running aground

Even the pros make mistakes now and again, and running aground is a common one. Oops.

4. Slamming the dock – As you’re surely aware, when you pull up to the dock everyone within view tends to be watching. And you can bet that while they’re hoping it goes fine, there’s also a sort of morbid curiosity at work. Yes, a tiny bit of each and every one of us hopes we get to see a docking disaster—if there’s a big CRUNCH! We sure don’t want to miss it. Naturally, you want to make sure you’re doing the watching, not the crunching. (And for some helpful hints on how to properly dock a boat, check out How to Dock a Boat, Our 10 Top Tips).

5. Failing to secure the end of the anchor line – If the end of the rode isn't tied off, it’s a sure bet that sooner or later, it’ll slip through someone’s hands and fly off the bow. Don’t blame your deck-hand—it’s entirely your responsibility as the captain and boat owner to make sure that line can’t possibly come free.

6. Wrapping fishing line around the prop of an outboard or stern drive – Newbies might just shrug it off as long as the prop keeps spinning, but sage boaters know that the line can cut right into the prop-seal. Oil will leak out, water will get in, and if you don’t notice the problem fast you’ll have to foot the bill for a new lower unit. If, on the other hand, you realize the prop is fouled and remove the line immediately, you negate the damage and preserve your reputation. Bonus points are awarded if you recover the fishing lure at the end of the line.

7. Running the engine on dry land without a water supply – It’s basic mechanics; if the water pump impeller doesn't have water for lubrication, it’ll grind and crunch. And if you run the engine for more than a couple of minutes without water to cool it, over-heating is a sure bet. In fact, this is so basic that if you make this mistake due to mechanical ineptitude, you deserve the repair bill that follows.

mechanical mistakes

This water pump impeller is thoroughly fried. See some other mechanical mistakes by watching our Norfolk Marine video, The Counter of Shame.

8. Dragging the outdrive across the asphalt, when pulling out of the boat ramp – Leave your drive unit all the way down after you load the boat on the trailer, and you might drag the skeg across hard land when you pull out. Very hard land. Full disclosure: I've done this one. My excuse? I was trying to improve the parking lot’s drainage by creating a small depression in the boat ramp, which would help direct the flow of rainwater.

9. The boat drifts away due to inferior cleating – You see this one with some regularity at the boat ramp, when a careless captain figures it’ll only take a moment or two to get the trailer and he doesn’t bother to make enough wraps or finish off the cleat by twisting the line. Bad move—make this mistake and everyone at the launch ramp will be laughing at your laziness.

And the top all-time winning power boater mistake is… (drum roll, please)

10. Forgetting to put in the drain plug – We’re not even going to bother explaining this one.