In my previous post (Part 2) regarding high performance boat operation, I reviewed basic information on rigging fit and function. Now its time to head to the ramp.

While the boat is still on the trailer, walk around for a visual inspection of the hull. Next, climb aboard for a visual inspection of the interior and engine compartment (motor well for outboards): ensure everything is in place and secure. Don’t forget the drain plug(s)! Check your other safety accessories: aboard? In secure locations?

Once your boat is launched, review the helm to familiarize yourself with the location and function of all instruments and controls. Make sure the steering wheel, throttle and shift controls are well within your reach and that you are comfortable with their operation.

If your boat is fitted with K-Plane trim tabs, be comfortable with the location and operation of the tab trim switches. The driver needs to know the location and function of accessory switches such as bilge blower, bilge pump, running lights, horn, courtesy lights and related fuses, or circuit breakers.

All boats should be equipped with a safety stop switch and a lanyard. Prior to starting the engine(s), attach the safety stop switch lanyard to your life jacket! Once the engine(s) are started, verify all engine and vessel gauges are in proper working order and engine/vessel functions are normal. Test the safety stop switch function before you head out.

Performance Boat School Instructor Brad Schoenwald (R) with student driver. Photo credit: Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.

The Mercury Racing Guide to Hi-Performance Operation recommends you be accompanied on your first ride by a person experienced in high performance boat operation and handling. I would go one further: I advise all owners of performance boats to attend a performance boat driving school. I spoke with Brad Schoenwald, an instructor at Tres Martin’s Performance Boat School, to get a feel for what you can expect to learn and experience.

Brad said their school is a two day course. The first day is eight hours of classroom work — chalkboard and multimedia instruction — covering everything from basic boating laws and regulations to performance boat hull types, trim, power and propulsion. Brad said they get students with the full range of experience attending their courses — from experienced drivers (including former boat racers like our own Fred Kiekhaefer) to first time performance boaters and non-boaters who want to become educated consumers.

I think it is important to approach each new boat with an open mind – as if it was your first boating experience. Every boat is different. One vee bottom is different from another. Moving from a vee-bottom to a catamaran is a different experience again. Brad reinforced my “open mind” approach.

“Novices are the least [predisposed to] instruction. They have no preconceived notions as to what is right and wrong. Folks with lots of boating experience and exposure to performance boats learn they were doing some things incorrectly,” said Brad.

Brad continued, “Performance,” is about human performance. The goal is for a student to able to demonstrate their skill upon completion of the two-day course.”