By Capt. Fred Davis


Should you let a friend run your boat is a question that may confront an owner of a PWC or large yacht. Many additional questions should be asked before an answer is reached.

What are your friend’s abilities? Have they had experience with your boat and equipment? Are they familiar with the area in which the boat will be operated? Will your insurance cover them? Where will you be?

If you are with the friend while they operate your vessel, you should instruct them on the proper function of all your navigation equipment; VHF radio, GPS, compass, etc. Explain various attitudes of the boat at different speeds, how to adjust the trim, as well as any handling changes that may be experienced when sea conditions vary. If you have a regular boating partner, it is a very good practice to have them completely familiar with your craft in case an emergency arises and you need assistance.

A more difficult decision regarding a friend operating your boat arises when you will not be aboard. You should not assume your insurance would cover them. Insurance companies that offer special discounts for holders of boating education certificates could deny a claim if the vessel is not operated by the certificate holder.

Your friend may have years of experience with a very similar boat but do they know how to operate your equipment? If they will be on a large body of water this could be very important. Electronic items require hours of practice for efficient operation. Different manufacturers often use different functions to arrive at information needed. If your friend is not well schooled on equipment EXACTLY the same as yours, they may not be able to use it when needed. Do not assume they have this ability without having them demonstrate it on your equipment.

Another important point to consider is how well your friend knows the waters they will be navigating. If they take your boat to an area they visit often, and know the waters well, that is one thing. If they borrow your boat and take it somewhere new to them however, they could encounter conditions like shoals and reefs that could damage your vessel. Their lives may even be endangered which could result in your friendship being jeopardized as well.

On large bodies of water, your friend’s ability to read charts and recognize navigational aids and their meaning is very important. They need to be able to read the water and recognize currents, especially in restricted areas. They must be able to quickly note white water around a reef, or a quick change in water color indicating a depth variation. They could encounter net buoys, dive operation flags or mid-channel markers as well as the more common nun and can buoys and must know how to respond to them in a quick and prudent matter.

If your friend encounters mechanical problems while operating your boat, will they know how to deal with them? Will they recognize the buzzers, gauges or lights that warn of possible problems? Will they be able to summon help if needed?

Having a friend borrow your boat may cause more worry and stress to you while they are gone then you realize. You could also spend many hours making repairs after they return. Loaning a boat is not like loaning a car or truck that all operate similarly and can easily be serviced at the nearest garage. If your friend encounters a need for service, they must be familiar with how to get it and how you would want the service performed.

Perhaps you may consider having a friend operate your boat as a convenience to you. Let’s say you left your vessel at a distant marina for repair and when notified to pick it up, you’re too busy to go and get it. Having someone else do this task might be most convenient, but the result could be expensive. Consider the options of hiring a licensed captain or paying storage fees or dockage until you get an opportunity to make the trip yourself. If your reason for leaving the boat was to have service performed, if you pick it up, you have the chance to go over the repairs done with the mechanic.

You need to be especially wary of having others operate your PWC. If you consider loaning it to a friend, or even let them operate it while you’re nearby, you may want to reconsider. You should be certain they know how to handle the machine by having experience on one very similar to it.
Statistics published by BOAT/U.S. and Marine Business Journal, indicate PWCs are involved in a large percentage of boating accidents and a greater number of fatalities involve PWCs. Accident investigations reveal the majority of operators were using a PWC they were not totally familiar with.

As a rule, you should operate your own vessel or be aboard during its operation no matter what its size. If you cannot be aboard, hire a licensed person who is familiar with your type of vessel and can operate all your equipment proficiently. Your boat will last longer as will your friendship if you do not let a friend captain your boat.


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Copyright © Fred Davis. All rights reserved.