Keep your balance on the water


By Dan Fannon

How many times have we heard someone say, “Remember to eat a balanced diet,” or “Don’t forget to balance work and play”? Maintaining balance is a primary life skill, but one easily overlooked in these harried times of pressured work schedules and few moments set aside for reflection and refreshment. I encourage you to give serious thought to the effects of balance as it applies to our life on the water.

Balancing rest and being underway

It’s a beautiful morning as you set a course for a day’s adventure. By the afternoon, the effects of wind, waves and a glaring sun have taken their toll. You are tired—that sweet, dreamy tired that comes from being on the water. But most likely, you are more tired and more at risk than you realize. Add a little alcohol to the mix, and the day’s effects of wind and sun are tripled. While you’re maneuvering back to port with changing late afternoon winds and opposing currents is not the time to be off balance.

Safety balance comes from making sure that you start the day fully rested. If you begin at 100 percent capacity and end at 40 percent, you’ll have enough clarity to make it home safely. But if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before and you start out at 75 percent, the problem is obvious. Being rested as you leave the dock is just as important as having enough fuel for the engine.

Balance that ballast

You don’t have to be a marine engineer to understand how to stay clear of your boat’s tipping point. All it takes is a clinometer, an awareness of the extremes of your boat’s roll in heavy seas, and a constant dedication to keep the weight distribution equal in port and starboard and fore and aft.

Just remember that except for the hull, everything in your boat is ballast, and a slight list at the dock might turn fatal when an unexpected wave comes at you underway. A balanced two-tank fuel system has to be paid careful attention, as does any stowed gear or item not secured to the boat’s structure.

Of course the biggest ballast problem is the ever-active human ballast that can quickly disturb the equilibrium of the most balanced vessel. When passengers are onboard, make them aware of the problem and make sure your entire party doesn’t end up on the flying bridge or gathered on only one side of the keel line.

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The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.