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Learning to handle small boats increases fun

By By Ben Column
Outdoors Columnist
Understanding small boats and learning how to handle them can increase the enjoyment of everyone aboard your boat. Consider these small boat tips before you launch.
(1) Load your boat properly. Overloading a small boat or loading it improperly can cause it to capsize. Small boats usually have little freeboard, the distance between the top of the gunwale and the waterline. Thus, overloaded and improperly loaded small boats can take on water.
The maximum capacity of your boat appears on the boat's capacity plate. Heeding the maximum weight for persons, motors and gear is important because you can easily exceed your small boat's maximum capacity before your get everything you want to take on board.
Loading a small boat improperly occurs frequently, too, especially when anglers fish alone. For example, say you weigh 180 pounds, the engine weight 70 pounds, the full six-gallon gas tank weighs 45 pounds, and your battery weighs about 40 pounds. That's 335 pounds. Your boat isn't overloaded. But if you placed all this heavy equipment within easy reach in the boat stern, your boat would be loaded improperly. The boat stern would lay too low in the water and the resulting high bow might restrict forward visibility.
(2) Wear a life jacket. Wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD (personal flotation device) is especially important. If you fall overboard suddenly and unexpectedly, wearing a PFD gives you the best chance to stay up in the water long enough to gather your wits and affect your own rescue. This advantage is the main reason why wearing a life jacket is so important.
There is an overwhelming safety difference between just having a life jacket available in your boat, as most laws for small boats require, and actually wearing one. Many anglers choose to wear Type III vest-like personal flotation devices because they are more comfortable to wear than Type I or Type II devices.
These kinds of PFDs are readily available in marine supply stores, mail order firms and tackle shops. They come in a wide choice of stylish colors and sizes to fit just about everyone. Many Type IIIs feature pockets, which let the devices double as fishing vests.
Many anglers say that paneled Type III life jackets are the most comfortable. The more panels, they contend, the more comfortable the life jacket is to wear. When you shop for a PFD, read the life jacket's label. It tells you its size and type, and if the PFD is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
(3) Stay seated. It's more enjoyable, less tiring and safer to fish sitting down. Try it a few times and it will become a habit. Small boats are not meant to stand up in.
Fishing from a small boat offers many advantages. They're economical, easy to tow and virtually maintenance-free. The best way to enjoy fishing in a small boat is to understand their special characteristics and become an experienced operator.