Investing in your trip // Photo: Alex Kwanten

Investing In Your Boating Experience

Chris Couch My Boat Story Nautical News

Captain Chris CouchHow much is your boating experience worth to you? When it comes to boating, it’s not just how much money you paid for your boat or how much you spend in maintenance. It’s also the time you take to plan and prepare your vessel and the time and effort you put into the decisions you make. As a motoryacht delivery captain, I have a big stake in the investment you make as well. Mostly, in how well you keep your vessel maintained. Before each delivery, I also invest large amounts of time into planning, watching for, and picking the right weather.

The preparation and decisions I make directly affect the quality of my delivery experience and yours as the client as well. Whether your journey takes you up the inside passage to Alaska or to Roche Harbor in the San Juans, across the Pacific to Hawaii or down the West Coast to Mexico, or to Gig Harbor for the weekend or to downtown Kirkland in Lake Washington for dinner, there are four fundamentals that will affect the quality of your boating experience.

Maintenance. How many of you have come down to your boats for the weekend only to spend most of that time fixing things that are not working? One of the best examples of this was a story I heard from a good friend, fellow captain, boat owner, and the owner of a yacht maintenance business. He told me of a gentleman a few years ago who kept his boat at his dock behind his home. This motoryacht had sat for several months over the winter with little to no attention. One late spring weekend, he plans a short family trip over a long weekend. They provision and load the boat for their departure. He goes to start the engines and there is nothing but silence. All the batteries were dead.

What kind of boating experience did this gentleman and his family just have? How many of you have experienced something similar? Had he at the very least gone down to his boat every two weeks or so, started the engines, gensets, run the systems, checked to ensure that the chargers were on, etc., he would have known of any issues that would have precluded his plans. Just the act of running your equipment is some of the best maintenance you can perform. Not to mention the regular maintenance that needs to be performed and kept up to date to ensure a safe and reliable vessel.

Every engine, generator, pump, system, appliance, and piece of equipment needs to be turned on and run on a regular basis. There is regular maintenance that needs to be performed from an annual basis down to every few weeks. The maintenance of your vessel does not stop with the last trip of the season. The maintenance of your vessel continues through the winter right up to the start of the next season.

Many boat owners know very little about how the systems and equipment on their vessel actually works. Take an active role in the maintenance and repair of your vessel. Take the time to learn its systems and operation. Proper maintenance of your vessel is the foundation upon which you build your boating experience.

Trip Planning. Planning your trip is much more than just deciding where you will go and what you will bring for groceries. A good trip plan starts with ensuring your vessel is properly maintained and ready to make the trip. But that is merely the foundation upon which you build the rest.
Captain Chris Couch

left to right: Captain Chris Couch at the helm of a delivery from Anacortes, Washington to Portland, Oregon. The trip was highlighted in this magazine’s September 2016 issue; The Captain Couch philosophy of sticking to a handful of simple best-practice rules can work for any boater.

A good trip plan is a checklist of anything and everything that has to do with your boat, where you are going, the route you are taking. It covers everything you need to bring, everyone onboard, and everything they will need to bring with them. It includes everything: distances, vessel documents, food, fuel, spare parts, weather forecasts, and flotation devices.

Decision Making. Long ago, I lost track of how many horror stories I had heard from boaters about their experiences. Out of all those stories, most have to do with the weather. Not that the weather and or sea conditions were necessarily bad, but the bad decisions that were made surrounding those conditions.

Everything we do is a decision. Does this feel right? Listening to that inner feeling is how we make good decisions. As a pilot and as a delivery captain, I make difficult decisions all the time that relate directly to the vessel and the people on board that I am responsible for, especially when it comes to the weather. There have been countless times that even though the forecast may look ok on paper, my inner feeling told me otherwise. Despite being criticized by boat owners and captains alike, my inner intuition has never steered me wrong.

Your job as the master of your vessel is to be safe and prudent. There is nothing more important to the quality of your boating experience than making good decisions. Do not be afraid to say no.

Trip Execution. When it comes time to leave the dock and start your trip, what is the very first decision you make? The first decision you make is whether to go in the first place. It is called the go/no-go decision. In aviation, every pilot before committing his or her aircraft to the sky makes this decision. It is based on the departure, en route, and arrival weather conditions. In practice, this should be no different for any mariner preparing to leave the dock.

For several days and each day before your anticipated departure, the marine weather forecast should be checked. The forecast for your departure, route to be taken, and destination needs to be watched. You are looking for a set of consistent wind and sea conditions for your anticipated time of departure and route for your trip. What are your weather limits? What kind of wind and sea conditions do you consider safe for your vessel and for the people on board?

When that time of departure arrives, you must make that decision to go or not to go. Is it safe and prudent to leave the dock and start my trip? Your boating experiences starts with this decision. Make it a good one.

Trip execution is where the pieces come together. The foundation of a properly maintained vessel. The building blocks of proper trip planning, good weather and safe, prudent decision making. All these factors help to create that positive boating experience—the very reason why you bought your boat in the first place. Protect that investment with proper maintenance, thorough trip planning, prudent decision making, and safe trip execution.

Now for me, I need to learn to relax and enjoy more of the destination. Perhaps having fun is a fifth fundamental to an excellent boating trip.

Chris Couch

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Captain Chris Couch is a successful Pacific Northwest-based delivery captain who has been widely used by companies like Alexander Marine for the last 26 years. Couch enjoyed a 14-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard that took him around the country to the East Coast, Gulf, and West Coast on all kinds of vessels. He has been at the helm through the Panama Canal five times and for four transpacific crossings. His book, The Checklist, is enjoyed by and distributed to yachts owners and is a fantastic resource that covers just about everything relevant to a PNW Boater. You can buy The Checklist, check out his other publications, or contact him at compassheadings.com.

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