National Fishing and Boating Week might end today, but the summer season of watersports fun is just beginning.
Sure, North Suncoast boaters and anglers enjoy the water year-round, but this is when waters become most crowded. Kids are out of school, families are looking for fun in the sun, and Florida's coastal resources offer plenty of great options.
Amid plans of cruising, tubing, fishing and island hopping, give due consideration to a handful of points that will help maximize your summer season on the water.
This is a factor that will determine just how often boats hit the launch ramp. With no break in sight from rising prices, many boaters likely will decrease outings.
That's certainly the straightest course to fuel savings, but those who mind some fundamental truths of wise boating might find they can afford a few more trips this season.
For starters, moderate speed. Some boaters seem oblivious to the fact that a boat offers different throttle positions between stop and top. There are times when full power is appropriate — jumping on plane from a still position, accelerating to avoid a potential collision, racing away from a fast-moving storm.
Generally, you don't need to run full throttle every moment your propeller spins. We won't delve too deeply into performance analysis, as the figures vary from boat to boat. But slower planing speed means lower fuel consumption.
A few more suggestions for fuel economy:
Regular engine service: Bottom line is that moving parts and parts that transfer liquids need maintenance. Keep your machine in top running order, and the operational efficiency results in lower fuel consumption.
Load wisely: Do you really need all that gear? Can you get by with a smaller cooler, less ice and fewer beverages? The lighter a boat's overall weight, the less power it requires. This formula directly affects fuel consumption, so scrutinize every item when loading.
Join forces: Motorists know the value of carpooling, and boaters can take a lesson. Maybe your family hosts the neighbors this weekend then they return the favor on the next trip. Just be sure to stay within each vessel's maximum capacity. This promotes fuel economy as well as safety.
Optimal fuel efficiency means nothing if someone gets hurt during a boating trip. A cool head and prudent response will get you through most situations, but there's no sense in facing avoidable problems.
The dumb stuff: Young children riding unsupervised on the bow; racing other vessels through crowded boating lanes; drinking alcohol while at the wheel. Law enforcement patrols increase during summer boating season, particularly around holiday weekends. Getting a ticket isn't the only risk. These dumb mistakes get people hurt or killed.
The right gear: The Coast Guard requires basic safety equipment for a reason, so don't skimp. (Details available at www.uscgboating.org/safety/fedreqs/intro.htm.)
For fail-safe security, add an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which transmits a signal that rescue teams can track in any conditions. A wise complement to VHF radios and cell phones, EPIRBs are available in affordable sizes for casual boaters at most marine retailers.
Weather: Simply put, Florida's summer weather is no joke. Lightning kills, but the sudden downdraft of an approaching thunderstorm can whip up the water and present navigational challenges for inexperienced boaters.
Check current and forecast conditions before launch, and monitor the horizon throughout your trip. Be sure you know how long you need to reach a safe port, and don't let building thunderheads overtake you. Rough seas, gusty wind and the dreaded waterspout are common summer occurrences in the Gulf of Mexico.
Proactive measures: Float plans summarizing your vessel information, intended course and expected time schedule provide key information for authorities in the event of any accident. Leave this information with at least one responsible individual (family, friend, harbor master) who can advise local law enforcement and/or the Coast Guard if your trip runs long with no communication.