Five things every boater should do this spring

As the days get longer and warmer and the smell of honeysuckle starts to fill the air, my mind start to drift away to the endless boating opportunities that await me this summer. Every year around this time I find myself planning for the perfect boating season. Let’s face it, even though here in Florida we can boat most of the year, many of us tend to take a break during the winter months. (Mostly due to the fact that we think anything under 75 is not suitable for outdoor activities!)

Now that the temperature is rising and the days are getting longer, there are a few things you need to do to ensure that your perfect boating season starts with all of your oars in the water.

1. Update your GPS and other electronics. Many of the electronics we have on our vessels, especially chart plotters, need to be updated from time to time. This will include firmware updates as well as updating nautical charts. For most devices, this can be done easily with a USB cable and a computer connected to the internet. The majority of manufacturers will have step-by-step instructions online for the firmware. Charts can be updated just as easily, although there is usually a cost of $100 or more.

2. Get a Vessel Safety Check. There is no excuse for not being safe on the water, and one of the best ways is to ensure your boat has all the required equipment on board is to get a Vessel Safety Check. Qualified examiners from the Coast Guard Auxiliary as well as the Power Squadron perform these inspections. Many times you can you can find these guys hanging out at your favorite boat ramp, but if not, they will be glad to come by your marina or home to perform the vessel check. Examiners will check for safety items like fire extinguishers, sounding devices, life vests and flares, just to name a few. Neither organization can cite you for not having the necessary equipment, however, if you do pass they will award you a sticker to place on the port side of your vessel. This sticker indicates that you have all of the required equipment and lessens your chances of being boarded. Noting can ruin a day of boating quicker than getting a ticket. To locate a vessel examiner, go to

3. Schedule your maintenance. If you’re a boat owner, you‘re well aware that you need to keep your boat serviced if you plan to keep it running throughout the boating season. A visual inspection and a spring tune-up are musts for every boater. Just as the days grow longer, so will the wait to get your boat serviced; I have seen it take as long as six weeks just to get an appointment. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, this is still a good time due to the cooler weather. Earlier is better than later, so that just in case you find a more serious issue you’ll have time to get the repairs made, and with e-15 that is always a possibility.

4. Restock your boat bag. I assume we all have a boat bag — at least I do. This is not to be confused with a ditch bag (the bag you carry in case you have to abandon ship). My boat bag is a bag I keep in the house to throw on the boat whenever I leave for a day outing. It includes all of the little necessities to make us confortable for a day on the water. Here are a few items to check and/or include.

• Sunscreen (Make sure it hasn’t expired.)
• Aspirin (or its equivalent) as well as other first aid items
• Crackers or other non-perishable snacks. It’s no fun being hungry two hours from home.
• Emergency contact information, in case you lose your cell phone. An extra set of car keys is a good idea as well.
• Insect repellant! If you have lived in Florida for any length of time you understand this one.

5. Plan your destinations. I must confess this is one of my favorite parts of the pre-boating season. Florida has literally thousands of different places to boat, each with their own unique flavor. Florida by Water ( is a great resource for finding new ideas and locations. This site is a comprehensive resource for the boating community that lists marinas, boat ramps, hotels, restaurants and even the popular boating hot spots for a given city. The site also includes nautical charts, GPS coordinates and weather information for most of the cities in the state, as well as tourism information such as special events and area highlights. You can even check for popular boating events such as nautical happenings or raft ups. I’ve found it best to go ahead and put these kinds of items on the calendar early. If not, they’ll come and go and you will have missed all the fun.

I hope these tips will take a little of the stress out of what should be a relaxing pastime. There is nothing better than a day on the water with family and friends.

Rusty Gardner
President Florida By Water

Baby It’s Cold Outside

The months of January, February and even part of March are not known as the best months for boating here in North Florida. In fact, many us tend to focus our attention on other things and try to patiently wait out the less than ideal conditions. However, as a passionate boater I find these down times to be a blessing in disguise. As with any lifestyle, it’s imperative to set aside time for planning and education. I know that this doesn’t necessarily sound exciting, but you’ll have to trust me – it is!

The Perfect Destination
If I’m not going somewhere on my boat, the odds are I’m planning my next adventure. I’ve come to realize that thinking about and planning a trip to a tropical paradise can be almost as rewarding as the actual trip itself — and honestly sometimes better. In my mind the weather is always perfect, my boat never breaks down and the seas are always calm. Therefore I find myself spending the winter months either planning my summer trips or daydreaming about warmer days and tropical destinations.

Your first stop in planning a cruise is often the internet, but the information you’re hunting for is often hidden and difficult to find. That’s why I created Florida By Water — to save you the endless hours I spent searching for new destinations to explore by boat. The site is broken down by city and then into categories like campgrounds, marinas, daytrips, restaurants, boat ramps and hotels. Often you’ll find reviews from other boaters that can help you make your decision. Every location on the site is accessible by water. Florida By Water does not charge for listings, therefore we list anywhere and everywhere you can get to on your boat.

My recommendation: look for areas you’ve never visited before. Last summer we discovered Carrabelle, Florida. It’s one of those small but great boating and fishing destinations that tend to be overlooked by the majority of boaters. Carabelle’s a quaint town with great water access and the charm that only a small fishing village can bring. Here’s another example a Florida By Water member sent me a few weeks ago:

“We are still cruising. We are at Whiddens Marina on Gasparilla Island, a charming, hospitable, old Florida marina that has been in the same family since the twenties. Another one of those hard to find spots only locals know about. This place has character. A highlight of our journey! When I asked the lady how much to stay the night she said she gets $40. When we said we would anchor in the harbor for the night she said to just stay on the dock for free as there is no one else here staying. I believe she lives in the upstairs of this old building. There is an old (everything here is old) museum attached and an outhouse with shower. It's wild. Like we have gone back in time. While it may not appeal to all, we feel privileged to find and be able to experience the rustic nature of this place. We will be back home on Tuesday.”

Once I’ve chosen my destination, I spend the next few weeks charting my waypoints. Personally I use Garmin Homeport for my charting software, however many companies make the same type of software. I can easily add all of the GPS coordinates from the comfort of my home, create routes and upload them to the chart plotter. Then I’ll save these and revisit them many times before heading to my new location. Another great information source — a quick call to a local sea tow or marina can provide valuable tips about the area. Just make sure that when you’re boating in unfamiliar waters you always use your charts, as well as local information.

Another winter option is to attend some of the many boat shows that are held after the first of the year. More than half of the NMMA boats shows are held during the month of January. Here in the Jacksonville area, the Jacksonville Marine Association Boat Show is at the Prime Osborne Convention Center from January 27-29, and the Southeastern Boat Show’s at Metropolitan Park April 20-22. If you’re up for a road trip, one of the best boat shows in the nation is in Miami on February 16-20. You can find a complete list of boating events at

Whatever you decide to do, you’ll find you don’t have to completely break from boating just because the weather is a little less than desirable.

Rusty Gardner is the owner and President of &