In this section
— Types of boating
— Licensing and registration
— Boating safety
— Boating Education
— Additional Resources
— Marinas and boat ramps
Sailing vs. Powerboating
The term boating covers a broad array of recreational possibilities. Before you get to all the various options of boats and places to go, you need to answer the big question: sailing vs. power boating? Both have their champions and their charms. The right decision for you depends upon why you want to go boating and what you want to do out on the water. It’s often said that sailing is about the journey and power boating is about the destination. That may not be universally true, but it gets at the essential difference.
Sailors will tell you that nothing beats the sensation of being out on the water with the wind filling the sails, harnessing the power of nature and relying on your skills and expertise to navigate a course. The attention to the environment that sailing requires promotes a sense of immersion in nature that can be deeply calming——the sound of wind and water, the direction of the breeze and the signals of changing weather. Beyond all that, sailing is an environmentally friendly form of travel, relying on a renewable resource—the wind—to travel as humans have for thousands of years.
However, sailing is not a pastime that promises immediate gratification. It requires technical knowledge and skill that must be learned through hands-on observation and practice. In addition, the pleasure that comes from harnessing the wind to slice across the Bay also makes you reliant on nature; you can’t sail when there’s no breeze! You’ll either resort to a motor on those occasions, or you won’t be going anywhere.
Powerboating offers its own pleasures. The relative ease and speed of getting from one place to another on a power boat provides more time and energy to focus on what you will do when you get there—mooring off a secluded beach along the Elizabeth Islands for a day of swimming and sunshine, alone or with other friends who have boats; heading out early in the morning or later in the afternoon to hunt productive fishing spots that can’t be reached from land, such as the Sow and Pigs reef, southwest of Cuttyhunk Island. And then there are boating-related sports, such as water skiing, wakeboarding and tubing, that can provide thrilling activities for the entire family. On the downside, power boats can be noisier and you do have to pay for the fuel, which can add up quickly.
Ultimately, it’s not a question of which one is better; both have their strong points as well as drawbacks to consider. In fact, what one person considers a benefit, another may see as a negative. Regardless, whether you prefer sailing or power-boating, you will find plenty to love cruising around Buzzards Bay.
Licensing and registration
Photo: Beyond My Ken
In many ways, the laws and regulations on boating are similar to those governing automobiles, motorcycles and other forms of transportation. State law requires all boats with engines—powerboats, sailboats with backup motors, canoes with outboards, jet skis or wet bikes—to be registered. Once acquired, the registration certificate should be available for inspection on board the boat whenever it is in operation, and the registration number should be visible on both sides of the forward half of the boat.
Apart from boat registration, state law also specifies the equipment, such as life preservers, fire extinguishers, running lights and visual distress signals, that must be on board each vessel. It also prohibits certain actions or behavior, such as operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can find all the details at the state’s Boat and Recreation Vehicle Safety Bureau.
Adult boaters are not required to earn a license to operate a boat nor are they required to complete a boating safety course, although boating education courses are highly recommended for those who are new to this pastime. Young boaters aged 12–15 are required to complete a state-approved boating safety course to operate a motorboat without adult supervision.
Boating safety begins with preparation. Before you set out on an excursion, whether it be a few hours or a few days, you need to gather information and supplies to ensure a safe and enjoyable time out on the water.
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) provides authoritative information on safety for recreational boaters. And if you have a smartphone, you can take the best of that information and more with you on the water by downloading the USCG Boating Safety App. The app puts a great deal of information at your fingertips, including local weather forecasts for your location and guidelines for a pre-trip safety check. It also connects you with Coast Guard services, including a vessel safety check request and an emergency assistance feature that will contact the closest command center.
Weather and tides. The first, and most basic thing to do, is to check the weather forecast, specifically the marine forecast for the area. Experienced boaters will often check several different sources for weather information, but every boater should be sure to include the National Weather Service’s marine forecast for the Buzzards Bay zone area. You also should check on the expected tides for the area, either from the exhaustive data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or another site, such as BoatMA.
Life jackets. The proper life jacket is a must. Under federal law, all boats must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. Massachusetts law requires that any child younger than 12 years of age wear a life jacket while on the boat. There are many types of life jackets on the market. Make sure the one that you buy is appropriate for the age and ability of the person who will wear it and for your on-water activity. You can even get a life jacket for your pet, which will help to keep you and them safe.
Safety gear. Other gear to keep on board include a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit, extra sunglasses and suntan lotion, an air horn/siren or water-proof whistle to signal for help, and extra rope and a flotation device that can be tossed to assist someone in the water. Items that need protection from water can be placed in a watertight pouch or “dry bag.”
Share your plans. Before heading out on a boat trip, it’s always wise to leave a float plan with someone you trust—especially for longer trips. A float plan provides information about where and when you are boating. The U.S. Coast Guard highly recommends this practice and offers a free form that you can use to guide the information you share, whether it be a family member, a neighbor or someone at the marina.
Know the rules of the road. Be sure that you understand the navigation and boat handling rules that apply wherever you go, such as operator’s responsibility, maintaining a proper lookout, safe speed, crossing, meeting head-on and overtaking situations. Know what’s going on around you at all times, and always travel at safe speeds for the environment.
When it comes to boating courses, there are a number of good options for landlubbers and old salts alike. Safe boating courses are highly recommended for anyone who is new to the sport, and in Massachusetts, completion of a state-approved course is required for youth between the ages of 12 and 16. But even experienced mariners may benefit from an occasional refresher. Boat Massachusetts is a free course offered by the Massachusetts Environmental Police, and it takes roughly 10 to 12 hours to complete. However, if the state’s offerings don’t suit your schedule, private companies, such as Boat-Ed.com offer in person and online safety courses that are approved by the state and the National Association State Boating License Administrators (NASBLA).
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a range of boating courses throughout the year, from the basics of boater education to a host of specialized topics—sailing skills and seamanship, navigating with GPS, inland boating and lines & knots. These in-person, classroom courses range in duration from several hours to several day-long sessions and cost about $50 on average.
Of course, there’s nothing like learning by doing. Here in Buzzards Bay, residents can turn to local non-profit organizations that offer hands-on courses on boating and sailing, for children and adults, from beginner to advanced. In fact, the Coalition will soon offer sailing lessons for all ages from its new Onset Bay Center, which opens in June 2020. Other nonprofit organizations that offer boating lessons include Bourne Community Boating in Bourne; Community Boating Center in New Bedford; and Mattapoisett Sail in Mattapoisett.
Boat Massachusetts: https://www.boat-ed.com/massachusetts/handbook/
Massachusetts State Boating Regulations: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/massachusetts-boating-law-summary
State-Approved Safety Courses: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/boating-safety-course-schedule
United States Coast Guard Information for Recreational Boating: https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/index.php?m=rb
U.S. Sailing Education: https://www.ussailing.org/education/