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OKay, ”You Just Bought Your First Boat; Now, ”Here's How to Keep From Dying

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On: Thu, Jul 17, 2008 at 3:26PM | By: Florida Marine Times

It was more than 10 years ago when I bought my first boat in Florida. A good friend, who's been guiding out of Fort Myers for many years, found it for me. "It's a real plain-jane," he said, "but it'll get you around to learn the water and you'll never get hurt ‘cause it doesn't go fast enough. Besides, you'll always get your money out of it." Know what? He was right on all counts. Mostly because I was just smart enough to ask for advice. Such as: "Dave, how much anchor line should I have?" "Oh, 200 feet," he immediately replied. "Really," I said, chuckling. "How much anchor line should I have." Dead serious he said, "Oh, about 200 feet. See, there were these guys in a small boat like yours who were fishing in the Gulf. When it was time to come home they couldn't get the motor started and they were in water too deep for their short anchor line. "Four days later they washed up some place in Mexico." Oh! I used that little boat for four years. I drove it all over Charlotte Harbor, went night Snooking, and explored waaaay up the Myakka River amid gators that were positively scary. And I learned safe boating as well as where to fish.

What I was told many years ago about wading unfamiliar Trout streams is just as true for novice boaters: "When in doubt—don't." But, common sense is in short supply sometimes. During the years since my indoctrination to south Florida flats and backcountry fishing I managed to acquire a Captain's license. I've guided an awful lot of anglers on my boat, of course, but also give "lessons" to newbies on their own boats. Recently, one of them confidently assured me that he didn't need an anchor "because I just drift the flats." "Well," I said, "let me tell you about a time when the ignition switch on my boat decided to die just when the winds started blowing 25 and I was heading aground on Long Bar up in Sarasota Bay. "I had two clients aboard, and it wasn't looking good. I dropped anchor as soon as I cleared the channel, and a friend came to my rescue. I transferred my clients to his boat and he towed me back to the 10th Street ramp.

I had to bail the boat constantly because the seas were so rough, and I was totally drenched by the time we got to the ramp. "But my clients were safe." "I get your point," he said after pausing to think over the potential ramifications. Another recent client asked me "Why do I need an anchor? I have a Power Pole." "Because you're going to be Tarpon fishing in 25 feet or water, that's why." "Oh!" he replied. Just "Oh!" The same client, who hadpurchased a used boat the week before, neglected to ask the previous owner about the cranking battery. On the morning I was to help him "learn" his new boat he turned the ignition switch and the battery literally blew up. Yes, I said "blew up." Like in BANG! With pieces scattered around and smoke billowing out of the hatch. Later that day he learned it was the original four-year-old battery and the chambers had run so dry that a hydrogen buildup exploded when the starter spark lit it up. Believe me—having a certified mechanic give your boat a regular, thorough checkout is WELL worth the money. I do it every November before the really busy winter/spring guiding season kicks into full gear. Whistles, horns, flares, flashlights (with spare batteries), and charts are essential. Especially the charts. When my friend took me to the marina to buy that first little boat he gave me an incredibly important piece of advice. "Buy a chart and a red Magic Marker," he said. "Then go out at low tide and circle in red all the places that could bite you in the butt when the water has that gray, greasy look and you can't see the oyster bars." I know that some of my younger clients look at me sorta funny and must think I'm an "old maid" because I take it slow and easy, even in familiar water. That's OK, though. I don't mind. Because one thing I know for absolute certain is that nobody's ever going to get hurt on MY boat! Make sure they don't on yours, either. Capt. Tony Petrella guides fly and light tackle anglers in Florida most of the year, then guides inland Trout, and Grouse hunters, in northern Michigan.


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