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Know-How - On board compatibility

Let me start by stating that what follows is from a male perspective, since men represent the majority of boat owners. Most women who own boats are smart enough to go it alone if their husbands or significant others aren’t interested or are incompatible on board.

I have a considerable amount of expertise regarding all aspects of boating (honesty outweighs modesty), but I am not Dr. Phil. It seems to me that the issue isn’t compatibility between husbands, wives, significant others or friends; it’s recognizing whether or not one of you is compatible with boating. Many people can have a deep, meaningful relationship on land but for any number of reasons not afloat.

I’ve known dozens of loving couples who just don’t do the “loving couple thing” on a boat. Let’s face it, for years boating was almost exclusively a “man thing.” It was where the man was in control — sometimes by virtue of actual experience and merit, sometimes only in their minds. Women were on board to provide the provisions, for display, and occasionally for conversation, but not to offer opinions.

They carried such cute sobriquets as “first mate” and usually weren’t educated in seamanship. They stood as figureheads, boat hook in hand, to hook moorings or docks, or to deploy or retrieve anchors under the screaming directions of “the captain,” who was exasperated by the incompetence of the distaff portion of their crew.

If there is incompatibility between genders on a boat, it’s probably due to a few factors:

• No one asked if she really wanted to come aboard. If asked, she may not have answered honestly. I’ve known dozens of wives and girlfriends who went aboard out of a sense of obligation and with the delusion that to acquiesce was the way to deepen the relationship.

• Lack of knowledge. She may have taken a basic boating course, even received a boating license, but was she really interested?

• Does she take the helm or at least given the opportunity? Is she terrified of doing something wrong?

Years ago my wife, Lou, was uncomfortable on board, always pointing to other vessels regardless of their distance from us (and often not aware of whether they were closing or heading away) with concern for potential collisions. Lou is a good sport, but being on a boat inevitably led to tension. This was especially true when she demonstrated a disturbing lack of potential to learn by osmosis from Capt. Bligh. It wasn’t until I had the radical idea of teaching her with the same diligence and patience I applied to paying students that things changed. She now docks and maneuvers to pick up a moorings, and I am the figurehead at the bow. (Truth be told, she’s a better-looking figurehead, boat hook in hand.) We no longer use boat hooks, except for mooring pick-ups, and she handles just about any boat as well or better than I can.

Here are some basic rules for boating with your spouse or significant other:

1. Determine whether she truly enjoys boating. Go to any boat show and watch the wives or girlfriends trailing along with their enthusiastic partners — their eyes in particular. If you see boredom or the expression of a prisoner whose final appeal has been denied, they have the “boat-show look.” When queried, wives and partners are often guilty of faking enthusiasm. It’s their acceptance of boys and their toys.

2. If the boat is new to a couple, keep initial passages short and under ideal conditions. Have your partner choose the destination. If she won’t, there’s a clue about compatibility.

3. Encourage involvement. Let her run the boat if she wants. Explain developing situations and, without being pedantic, the Rules of the Road, and apply them. Boat handling is more difficult than driving a car. Boats steer differently. There are no traffic lanes, stop signs or traffic lights. Boats always move with five degrees of freedom: heaving, rolling, pitching, yawing and surging. Moreover, they don’t have brakes.

4. Seasickness is serious, so be proactive. Nothing turns a person off to boating faster than seasickness.

5. For longer passages, never go with three. Two will always join together to gang up on the third, and that may be you.

6. Know your shipmates before you board. At worst, go it alone.