For Father’s Day this year I really wanted to take my husband, Tim, out onto the lake and have him teach our son Cole and I how to handle a boat, especially by the dock. He emphatically said “Not on a holiday weekend”, which was probably smart though disappointing. So, on a random weekday, we set out to Stockton Lake Marina at the state park and rented a pontoon boat with a 90 horsepower engine.
Joey, one of the marina workers, handled all my manic questions beautifully and professionally. He assured me that there was a bimini on the boat (it’s been 98-102 in Missouri lately) and the rental would cost $X amount and no more. Previously, boat rentals on most lakes in SW Missouri may have had a hefty deposit against your debit/credit card until their boat was returned in good condition. This was not the case for this rental, but I’m sure that could change at any time. This extra deposit makes the idea of a 4 hour rental a little daunting.
We took some of the family on this trip including Cole, Darby and her boyfriend Tristan. The 3 kids were born after 1984, which is important as anyone born before that date is grandfathered in to escape the need for a boating “license”. I suppose the need for a boating license came about with the increased sales of boats to people who had no idea what “right of way” means out on the water where there are no marked lanes and your boat has no brakes (though my foot always looks for it). The Missouri State Highway Patrol takes care of issuing this license and you can find more information here: https://www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/MSHPWeb/WaterPatrol/BoatingLaws_Education/boaterEduLawFAQ.html
First off, I will tell you that I didn’t hit anything too hard with the bow or stern of the boat! Second, I will tell you that Tim is a terrible boating instructor. We love watching the Broncos Guru YouTube channel every Sunday for Boneheaded Boaters of the Week! It is a great way to vicariously live the boating life and learn what not to do when you are out on the water or trying to dock your boat. One of his consistent pieces of advice when near the ramp or the dock is never go faster than you’re willing to hit something! This is great advice for newbie boaters. Check him out if you are thinking about boating as a new hobby or just want a laugh. Broncos Guru is a much better boating instructor than my husband!
I managed to back the boat out of the marina slip and make it through the breakwater, (which is larger than it looks from a distance) without any mishaps and with Tim constantly telling me not to over steer. Boats have delayed reaction, it’s not a car with 4 tires AND the currents/wind are pushing you as well-steering is definitely a skill.
Stockton is famous for sailing in this area and is certainly a windy lake. You have to find out of the way, calm inlets to anchor your vessel and jump into the water because even with an anchor, the wind will just push your boat away and you will have to swim to chase it down. We tooled around the lake looking for spots to swim, enjoying the wind and the company for about 3 hours, eating the picnic lunch I had packed and taking turns driving the boat. As it was the middle of the week, Tim was correct and there were very few boaters out on the water, which made learning how to come up to plane, how to find inlets and anchor much easier than on a weekend. Joey had given us a map of the entire lake which helped in finding out of the way, deep areas to cool off and keep the pontoon boat safe from harm. The ability to trim (lift and lower) the outboard engine is disabled on the rental boats from the marina as the propellers were being damaged by new boaters who didn’t understand how or when to trim the engine for safe anchoring.
Of course, bringing the boat back into the marina did not happen without bumping the dock once or maybe twice-who’s counting? Joey was on the dock, ready to grab the lines, pull us in and tie us off. He filled the tank while telling us about the otters that play under the dock interfering with the electronic connection between the pump and the register inside the marina store. Of course, the fuel is in addition to the rental fee.
My advice for this type of adventure is to do some research first, watch a few videos and just take the boating class online. If you know a boat person, entice them to come along on your first trip out to give advice and instruction. I would have never attempted this alone. Water of any type deserves respect and should be treated carefully. Storms can blow up unexpectedly, engines can fail, the current can move your boat quicker than you believed possible.
In the end, learning to handle a boat is a lot like learning to drive a car. You just have to dive in, after learning the rules, and do it. The currents change, sandbars pop up, limited rain or flooding changes the water scape and you need to pay attention. Now that I have a better understanding of boating, I would be comfortable going with Cole or Darby, though I would still rather entice the family boating expert out with me-terrible instructor or not.