Remedial Rules of Boat Operations

I’d like to thank the powerboat community of Knoxville, TN for the exciting adventure I had yesterday on the Tennessee River in and around downtown Knoxville.  I’d particularly like to thank the operator of the blue powerboat with the deep-V hull and Bimini rig with the family of five.  If it were not for your wake, my bilge would have been dry and I wouldn’t have gotten to spend the afternoon with the cold river water soaking into my ass.  I’d also like to thank the two frat boys and thier girlfriends in the bow-rider with the 125 HP merc.  If it weren’t for you, I’d never had enjoyed the adrenal rush of trying to slam my bow around in no wind so that I could avoid taking your wake abeam, and getting swamped.  And finally, to the young couple in the Boston whaler, I appreciate that you have probably not seen a sailboat before.  I know they’re rare in this area.  But “give way” does not mean circle me three times at 40 miles an hour, while waving in a friendly manner but giving me a moebus pattern of wakes to try to keep from coming over the side of my boat, or flipping the damn thing over.

In fact, let’s have a little pop quiz and look at what “give way” means:

“When a powerboat meets a sailboat on a port tack, the powerboat should give way to the sailboat.  (Unless the powerboat is a tug with barges in tow.)”

This means:

A) Circle the sailboat 4 times at roughtly thirty knots, waving in a friendly manner, and stirring up the river into two-foot-deep chop.

B) Jam your powerboat within 10 yards of the bow of the sailboat, at 30 knots, when there’s 120 yards of channel aft of the sailboat.

C) Keep your powerboat stubbornly in the middle of the channel, regardless of the orientation of the sailboat or direction of the wind, and assume the sailboat can modify it’s heading and speed to get around you

D) Maintain speed and direction, kicking up a four-foot crest-to-trough wake, large enough to put about five gallons of water over the gunwale of the sailboat regardless of how well its handled.

E) None of the above.


Think carefully now . . . .

The answer is:

E) None of the above!

If you answered anything else, please do me a favor.  Go to your boat.  Proceed to the console.  Remove the empty beer cans and used pork-rind packages.  Behind them you will find a sealed booklet that came with your boat. It is probably labeled “Owners Manual.”  In it you will find a section titled “Rules of the Road,” or words to that effect.  READ IT!

In case your manual has spent too many years as a coaster or you’ve used the critical pages to roll spliffs, here’s a Cliff’s Notes Version:

1) Slow the hell down!  All small craft, including canoes, rowboats, kayaks, and yes, sailboats under 15 feet have less than 8 inches of freeboard.  This means that a wake 9 inches tall can swamp and sink them.  It will take you less than two minutes to idle past the small craft. This will not prevent you from getting to the dock before the beer stores close. I promise.

2) Passing port-to-port is the correct standard approach.  But when you’re meeting a sailboat on a port tack and she’s already 80% across the channel, do not cram your boat into the remaining 10 yards of the channel.  Use the rest of the river so that the sailboat has time to manuever to meet your wake safely.

3) Never circle a small craft at anything more than idle speed.  She must take your wake bow-on to avoid being swamped, and if it’s coming from all sides, you’ve presented a stiff challenge for the sailing master.

In closing, I would like to apologize to all of the power boaters in Knoxville who do, indeed follow the rules of the road with courtesy and grace.  My current attitude stems from writing this post in soaking wet underwear in spite of having managed to put the boat in dry.



  1. You’ve put into words my same issue with any kind of boat that runs with a motor larger than a trolling motor. They just don’t seem to understand that ‘small’ craft means SMALL! My own wet backside experience with my Super Snark in Colorado was very similar. It’s just a lack of respect, a failing that is very common among people these days.

    BTW, good luck with ‘Dad’s Boat.’ I recently renovated my Snark but there was not nearly the same amount of restoration needed that you’ve described. I wish you the best in your endeavor.

    • Thanks. I’ve got a few more observations about this past summer’s season, as well as more information on the refit as I work on it.

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