Getting into boating is a thrilling adventure! The entire journey of buying a new boat - or purchasing a used boat - and deciding how you will use it is always filled with exciting new questions. Topics often include cost of ownership, proper boat maintenance procedures and overall seaworthiness of a particular vessel. Luckily there are many wise pros readily available to help answer those kinds of questions and lead you to your perfect boat.

Woman Sitting At Marina With Boats In Background

New boaters face many questions when they are choosing their first boat and learning how to get on the water safely. Photo by Pexels.

However, what about the unexpected questions that may arise later, when you're out on the water for the very first time? Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know! As each new thing comes up, you’ll find yourself reading more and more articles on and asking fellow boaters all sorts of questions. But there are no dumb questions, right?


All joking aside, we’ve all been there. To help, we’ve addressed the top questions and fears of new boaters.

First Fuel-up & Pump-out

Your first fill-up and pump-out experience can be eye-opening. The fuel dock is often a very busy place on the weekend and the soon-to-be routine event should start with a plan. 

Here are three tips to make your first trip a success.

#1 - Know Your Boat's Fuel System

It's a good idea to know the ropes before your first visit to the pumps by doing some research on the basics of modern fuel systems on boats and the different types of marine fuel available, such as diesel and E15, as well as how to make sure you don't get any water in the gas when filling up. 

#2 - Avoid a Toxic Mess!

In case of a splash or spill of fuel, experienced boaters know to have fuel spill rags and absorbents ready to take care of their boat or affected water.

#3 - Do I Tip?

To not waste the time of the people patiently waiting behind you, be ready to pay for your fuel or pump-out. Know in advance the marina’s acceptable forms of payment. Not to mention, as the meter calculating your fuel cost climbs, you might be left wondering if you’re supposed to tip the dock attendant, too! Hint: Definitely have some cash for the kid.

Even when an attendant only helps with docking (you may be surprised to know that many attendants are not permitted to actually operate the fuel nozzle), a tip is expected for the good and helpful service provided. These days, the going rate for an acceptable tip is anywhere from $5 - $20. Same goes for the person handling your pump-out (this smelly job definitely deserves those higher bills!).

Docking, Enough Said!

How to dock calmly in front of the inevitable crowd, is a question and fear all new boaters have. We spoke with some longtime boaters recently who had great tips for learning how to line-up a go-to approach for docking.

Here's a roundup of some of their ideas:

Practice and Communicate like a Pro

Hire a captain for a day, or several days for various weather conditions, and practice until you get it right consistently. A captain will help you ace your approach by teaching you how to prepare your dock lines on your bow and stern and how to place fenders for protection.

Rest assured that at some point you're going to hit the dock, so when you're out for the first time with a captain, go slow and gently bump it. Get the experience and fear of it out of the way!

If you are docking with a spouse and have a larger boat, many captains recommend getting headsets for communication when face-to-face interaction isn't possible. Couples call them “marriage-savers”!

Confidence Comes in Increments

Learn docking in a slack tide before trying to dock in an incoming or outgoing tide.

Another tip for learning how to dock is learning to dock the front end first. Tie-off and then turn the engine towards the dock and put it in reverse and let it pull the back end towards the dock.

Go Slow

Don't rush. Take your time, and if you’re not happy, start again. Never approach a dock any faster than you're willing to hit it.

Dial-Down Distractions

Turn music low or off, and make sure your passengers are paying attention and know commands if you need their help.

Boating Terminology - Say What?

Quick quiz: Do you know what an “anchor light” is?

Is it:

  • A) A white light to stick in the water to find your anchor

  • B) A white light that is required to shine at the top of a boat and be visible all around when anchored or moored between sunset and sunrise

  • C) None of the above

If you guessed A or C, this just demonstrates (in a funny way) that knowing the boating vernacular is part of being a capable boater, not just some secret language boaters use to sound cool!

One of our favorite resources among boating beginners is our guide to boat terminology that has it all covered - from boat parts to boat type, and every action command you'll need out on the water. 

VHF Radios - Stage Real

Calling out to boaters, the Coast Guard, or to the authorities on the VHF radio is serious business. To not make what may already be a stressful situation worse, it makes perfect sense to practice and jot down the list of what you need to know and report in case of an emergency.

The information you need to have handy for a variety of situations:

  • The name of your boat

  • Your location coordinates

  • A description of your boat

  • How many people you have onboard, specifically the number of adults and children

  • Your problem - fire, taking on water, medical, mechanical problem, lost, out of gas?

Boater Etiquette - 3 Words To The Wise

In the eyes of your non-boater friends, the moment you took the helm of your new boat, you basically became a seasoned mariner. And every seasoned mariner knows polite boating behavior. So besides taking safety measures seriously and navigating properly, abide by these "Three W’s”.


Boaters have a reputation for being easy-going, nice, good people. Keep it that way by continuing the longtime tradition of always waving to your fellow boaters and sailors while underway. Waving makes a quick connection with the other people operating vessels around you and generally signals your shared passion for enjoying a beautiful day on the water.

Be Willing

Little gestures, like lending a spare part to someone or offering to help a stranger with a spring line, are always appreciated. Willingness to help other boaters (when it is safe) is more than courtesy, it’s a social norm among boaters.

Waste No One’s Time

Whether you’re at the boat ramp or fuel dock, don’t dilly-dally. Efficiency is the sign of experience, so be brief and be gone!

Final Thought

You’re going to be a great boater! Always remember the lessons you learn, and in the future, just like the experienced boaters we surveyed for this article, be open about your trials and share your valuable tips with the next generation of new boaters.

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 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.