Shes @ sea Mon, 09 May 2016 18:27:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is It Really That Complicated? Fri, 13 Nov 2015 15:52:53 +0000 Unwritten Boating Rules

“No way am I leaving you the keys. You’ll never be able to figure it out anyway – gotta go,” he said, as he slipped on his flips and sauntered (or was it a swagger?) out the door to run a morning charter.

I was left to wait . . until he returned . . . to use the boat.

You see, having come from the city to live on this island, I had no idea that women, “couldn’t figure out how to drive motorboats.” In what was basically a non-conversation, my hippie drop-out (and yet inexplicably attractive at the time) boyfriend, made it cyrstal clear in his monosyllabic overly communicative way, “ Chicks . . . do . . . not. . . drive. . .boats”

I could only infer, from his total inability to defend this notion, that driving a boat really must be very complicated since he CERTAINLY wasn’t suggesting that women weren’t . . . smart enough? strong enough? able enough?

Enviable Job Title with Perks?

When we finally got off the dock that day, the second part of this little boating arrangement was revealed. The “captain” drives the boat, and the girlfriend/ passenger  gets to be the “mate.” This honor allows the mate to pretty much do everything on board EXCEPT drive the boat.

She fetches drinks (which can be a full time job depending on just how salty the captain is), she manages the anchor, she ties up dock lines, she retrieves anything the captain wants out of stuffed compartments. She is like a maid wearing a bikini.

But the job gets even better. The captain can blame the slaving mate for any boating mistakes he makes! So if the docking is sloppy, if the anchor gets stuck, if he runs into something or runs aground – the mate is to blame!

In a nutshell,  men are in charge of boats. Women wait around until the men agree to go boating. On board, the women are the passengers and maids and the men drive the boats! Under no circumstances does the captain give up the helm (or get his own beer).

This system had me baffled. As I look back at that time, I really can’t believe it took me so long to put my foot down – was it youth? Rum? Island infatuation? Was I really blinded by love for a guy with bleach blond hair who never questioned the absurdity of these unwritten rules?  Did I really believe that driving a boat was so hard that I couldn’t figure it out?

Know Thy Captain

This whole situation came to a screeching halt after being forced to spend a night hard aground on board, in the pouring rain. A fabulous day of diving and exploring turned into sheer misery right about the time the captain plowed his way to high ground on a seagrass bed. Oh silly me, the captain is never at fault. As the night wore on and the beer cooler was emptied, my sage leader made it very clear who was to blame in this navigational mess – me, of course – the mate.

If you ever want to know how someone is really wired, sit in the rain, hard aground, over an empty beer cooler for the entire night.

Needless to say, the romance with my island man and his crap island notions about boating ended that night.

And it is surely needless to say that no, driving a motor boat  isn’t complicated at all.  Forward makes it go forward, reverse makes it go reverse. There are no brakes.

My advice to island girls – get your own boat. Be your own captain.


]]> 0
Docking Panic Exposed! Mon, 05 Oct 2015 12:55:59 +0000 The epitaph read:

She sparkled – this fair and salty lass
Astride tumbling waves her life did pass
Her quest for joy kept her knees a’knocking
Alas, she died of embarrassment whilst docking

No!! I am kidding! This is NOT a true story!

I am a female boat captain living and working in the fabulous Florida Keys and I have been teaching women to drive boats for the last 15 years. When we get to the docking portion of the instruction, almost every single student will utter, “I am going to die of embarrassment if you have me dock here in front of all these people!”

Please - no docking!

Please – no docking!

NEVER ONCE, has this ever happened. My track record is PERFECT! Not a single soul has ever died of embarrassment while docking!

A few ladies have gotten close – but not once have we had to record a fatality!

I have spent hours trying to understand why women have such anxiety over docking – the lament is beyond “simply” dying of embarrassment – it has to do with panic, fear, control, confidence. . . the whole issue is fraught with so many complications that it is practically impossible to diagnose!

Docking panic is intrinsic to learning to boat.

It is so predictable that I have categorized the five stages of docking panic so that students understand that it is part of the trade-off of learning the empowering skill of taking the helm. And we all know (whether we want to or not) that knowledge is power!

My students usually run through these five stages within two grueling minutes of realizing that it is their turn to dock the boat and no one will do it for them. Such a long and painful 2 minutes.

Stage One         Proclamation of Death by Embarrassment
Here we are in Stage One. We are straightforward and speak with conviction, “I’m going to die of embarrassment if I have to dock here with all of these people watching.” The tone is low, breathy, and spoken with hint of “just try and make me” thrown in. It is an ego driven plea for help! We are smart, capable, overachieving female boaters – we do NOT want to be embarrassed – EVER. And the problem with being a female “captain” is that it does seem as if “everyone” pays a little more attention to “lady drivers” to see how she handles her boat.

Stage Two        Worry
Worry brings pause and reflection. The throttle goes to neutral and I hear, “Okay, . . .I’m not exactly sure if I can make this happen.” The problem here is that we usually ARE pretty sure about making things happen when we are on land. But, we are on a boat. And this is problematic. We immediately start to scan the area: how many people are watching? how shallow is this water? the wind is howling, look at that gorgeous boat I’m going to dock next to and possible crash in to . . . This stage usually ends when we sadly realize that we can not stay at sea forever. We must get to the dock.

Stage Three         Terror
There is simply no way to bypass this step. Things are not pretty here. Stage Three symptoms include cursing, swearing, gnashing teeth, profuse sweating, uncontrolled throttle actions, apocalyptic visions . . . Why does fear have to be so complicated? Unexamined, it paralyzes the best of us. But, we have no time to examine – we have a boat to dock. Which segues nicely into Stage Four and a toward a solution mentality.

Stage Four           Escape
This stage is spoken clearly and with resolve. The student boater has identified the problem when she barks the command to me or anyone who will listen, “You take the helm and dock. It will be much easier that way.” This admittedly brilliant solution will solve one problem but it will NOT solve the one we work on in class which is to improve her docking skills. There is no easy fix to replace the pain of practice when it comes to improving docking skills. On to stage Five.

Stage Five           Acceptance
We are through the woods – well, not actually. The boat isn’t at the dock yet. We realize there is no “way out” of docking except to simply face forward, make a plan, execute the plan, and get the thing tied up. And the beauty of moving through all of the other stages is that at this point, we, women, realize we are capable. Most novice female boaters who are willing to take the helm, use their intellect to make up for their emerging intuitiveness. It is this ability to assess the situation, make a plan, enact the plan, reverse and retry if necessary that bring success!

High fives all around!!

Have I exaggerated this whole docking dilemma? Well, maybe a little. When I lay out the Five Stages of Docking Panic to my students, we all have a good laugh – until we get closer to the dock. But what if we could zip through the pain of these steps? What if we could shorten the part about panic, swearing, cursing, and sweating?

Try this Simple Exercise to End the Panic
Try this exercise to get over the fear of docking:

♥  Drop a weighted buoy (or two) in the middle of wide open water.
♥  Drive up to the buoy and back away from it without running it over. Assess for wind, waves, and current in order to place your boat within inches of the buoy. Then back away from it.
♥  Practice this 10 times.
♥  Move the buoy to a more challenging area – one with wind, current and restricted space and practice your skill 10 times at each location. If your boat is low enough to the water, use your boat hook to pick up the buoy before you back away from it. This emulates getting lines ready when you actually dock.

Take Away Realize that this buoy exercise is simulating your eventual docking experience.  You are learning about how steering and momentum affect the movement of your boat.

Pay attention to how your throttle regulates the thrust of the engine and what it does for the boat’s momentum when the engine is in gear. Realize that you are in control of the boat’s forward movement. Note that you have almost no steering capability when your boat is not in gear. How does this affect your ability to put your boat where you want it? Can you integrate these two concepts to “hit”the buoy every time?

Every time we take the time to challenge ourselves we improve our skill and confidence! I encourage you to get out there today!

Email Captain Elizabeth Jolin at for hands-on instruction, insight into building a confident boating mindset, as well as solutions for boating safely, intelligently and independently.

]]> 0
No Human Shields Please Mon, 28 Sep 2015 14:34:00 +0000 “FEND, FEND, FEND!” he bellowed from the helm station.

He was coming in fast and sloppy and was ready to take a nice chunk out of one of the  City Harbor Marina pilings.

She was ready – her hair coiffed, her nails painted, her swim suit cute. She was game, crouched down near the bow rail – ready to jump into action.

Her nails made me wonder if she had done much boating and whether she was really up for the task. But, like all good voyeurs, I just sipped my drink dockside, to watch the show unfold. In fact, the whole bar was on edge, just waiting to witness the mayhem.

Well, let me tell you – this lady had a head on her pretty shoulders. And it was working – the closer the boat got to the piling, the faster her mind was working.

The captain barked his order with more urgency, “FEND, WILL YOU?!!”


And she was exactly right. With that, she sat down on the bow – bracing for the impact.

This lady got a cheer from the cheap seats!

No one should EVER fend off a motor boat. A kayak? Maybe. An innertube afloat on the lazy river? Maybe. A motorboat? Never. Never. Never. Not even if it is a 15 foot skiff with a tiny little kicker on it. A motor boat has a motor for a  reason!

A captain, demanding passengers to “fend” is certainly asking for a reason. But the captain of a mid-sized recreational motorboat  should have enough skill to operate the boat in a manner that allows him/her to place the boat exactly where it needs to go by using the engine and not the passengers.  

So What’s the Big  Deal?

This concept doesn’t seem that novel – I am basically telling you to use your motor to dock. I would categorize this suggestion as a no-brainer except that I have seen the human shield fending scenario a thousand times.

The “big deal” about docking is that you are never going to dock the same way twice! So even if you are an expert at getting your boat into your slip this does not mean that you will be able to replicate the ease at an unfamiliar dock.

Ditch the Human Shield With this Elementary Exercise

  • Make a list of 10 local waterfront establishments in your area
  • Boat to each and every one of them and dock your boat
  • Do not use anything but your motor to put your boat on the dock
  • After some practice, repeat this exercise on a windy day

Take Away

This exercise hardly seems worth doing EXCEPT that boating, and particularly docking, takes practice.  You will not improve your skill unless you practice. Did I say elementary?

]]> 0
Taming the Rocketblaster Mon, 21 Sep 2015 15:22:42 +0000 We’ve all witnessed it. The guy roars up to the dock. Has a flash of, “Holy crap! I am going to crack this dock!” He has a panic moment. He throws the boat into reverse to avoid smashing his gleaming gel coat! The boat fishtails backwards. The captain turns to see what he is going to ram into. He barely misses the piling behind him so he throws it into forward.  He comes at the dock again, only a hair slower. Slides up to it, slams it into reverse again, fishtailing again, but eventually manages to land the thing only to bark out an order to his mate to, “Grab the lines and hurry up!”

This scene takes place again and again! Reverse is used to “save the day!”

Actually, reverse was not created to “save the day,” nor was it created to “escape” or prevent “near misses.”It was created in order to . . . wait for it. . .  simply reverse the direction of a boat. So why are we using it like a rocketblaster on a batmobile?!


The first real boat I learned to drive was an old Grady White. It was a beauty. In my mind it was gently used,  straight off the showroom floor. In reality, it was a little like my Grandmother: a little tired, a little cranky, rusty, great bones, rich history, and while she was no longer a beauty queen, she could still hold her own with her domineering personality!

Just one of the personality quirks of this old boat,  was that the engine did not have reverse. Since I wasn’t comparing it  to anything else, it didn’t matter. That boat took me everywhere! Fishing, snorkeling, touring, overnight boat camping, to the Everglades. . . absolutely everywhere – all without a reverse gear.

A boat without reverse forces the captain to be CAREFUL around solid objects! The adage, “approach the dock only as fast as you want to hit it” was a very real warning because I had NO other option. I was either going to boat smarter, or ram into docks. My pride kept me from ramming.

None of my male captain friends could see the beauty of my one-gear wonder. No one wanted to borrow this boat, and no one wanted to use this boat. No one even listened when I defended that old Grady by suggesting that they might improve their own boating skills if they stopped using reverse.

To this day, very few of my male captain friends think this is a good idea. However, I guarantee you there is no quicker way to learn to boat with finesse than by learning to boat without reverse.

Seriously Simple Exercise to Master Your Bat Mobile and Master Momentum

  • Get on board and PLEDGE to avoid reverse for an entire day of boating! Don’t use it for anything!
  • Dock at least five times while out and about.
  • Realize how much planning goes into docking and how incredibly careful you can be without the use of reverse.
  • Hone this planning ability and use it when you go back to business as usual.

Skills improving? I thought so.

]]> 0
Should I Wear My Gold Sandals? Or Should I Learn How to Read a Chart? Mon, 14 Sep 2015 17:00:49 +0000 I wanted to kill him.

I was spitting mad and blind with anger.

My husband had tied up the boat for the night and opened his beer and I was ready to kill him. He had no idea what the problem was.

“Do you realize that we were just nearly killed entering this harbor?!” I spat.

“We were?”

I was hyperventilating, “Are you kidding?! We were 10 feet from the bloody cliffs! We nearly rammed the lighthouse and we nearly got pounded to smithereens on the rocks! YES – YOU nearly killed us!”

He chuckled. This was not his experience.

I couldn’t let it go. I plowed on, determined to force him into admitting that I was not making things up. “Did you realize that we were going to run into the rocks?! The lighthouse was all but screaming at us to TURN AROUND!”

My seafaring husband, gently scolded me, “Sweetheart (never a good endearment to use), It was blowing 10 knots, the sun had just set, we were at least a mile from the lighthouse.”

We were on the same boat that night. My husband did not have the same near death experience that I had endured entering that harbor.

This was the night that dashed the belief that I could get away with reading my book and sipping my cocktails on board while someone else managed the boat.

I had spent the day before our “near death,” lounging, rather than paying attention to much of anything concerning the boat. I hadn’t any thought about reading the charts until after the sun had set (such a bad idea), I hadn’t even paid enough attention to think about the challenges of  arriving in the new harbor at night. . .. . My husband, to his credit, had actually been paying attention to all these things, could care less about entering a harbor at night, and has no problem blocking out the noise of surf and howling wind rather than letting it totally distract him into paralysis with haunting visions of doom.

I had been terrified entering that harbor because I was clueless about every single aspect of how to manage our boat. I wouldn’t have known the first thing about taking the helm that night! Fear (and terror) was driving my anger.

Truthfully, at that time in my life,  I wanted to be on the cover of one of my Yachting magazines, wearing strappy gold sandals with a flowy cover-up, on a gleaming boat with an invisible captain who only piloted in calm and pristine sea conditions. The reality was that we didn’t even own a yacht and we weren’t yachters. We were just  boaters – out to experience and the beauty of nature.

I had to make some choices. I could choose to be a participant in the adventure of boating OR choose to be a passenger – wearing my gold sandals and allowing myself to be subject to the whims of whomever happened to be captaining. I would be choosing to give up my say in how the boating was managed and choosing to have no capability at the helm if ever needed. The sandals were sounding like more of an impediment at this point.

I hate to concede much of anything, but there was no way around it. I had to step up to the plate. Because the option of being a ‘helpless’ passenger  was out of the question for me. I had to participate fully. I had to pay attention. I had to feel comfortable behind the wheel, docking, navigating. . . you name it. I had to participate. (I also had to apologize to my husband for being a raging lunatic that night).

I want “recreational boating” to be recreational. I want it to be joy and light. I want it to be exactly as they show it in the glossy magazines. For now, I pack the gold sandals in the boating bag just in case. But I choose to go barefoot on board. It works out so much better for me.


]]> 0