There are few things in life more pleasurable than a boating vacation . The keys to a successful boating vacation are local knowledge, detailed preparation, and family flexibility.
With the advent and refinement of internet search engines, there is a wealth of information available online that can form the foundation of a successful boating vacation plan. Government websites include important information on lake and river conditions, water levels, water quality, maps – including the all important but not always supremely accurate depth charts. For example in the Texas Hill Country on the Highland Lakes, the LCRA has developed an excellent and informative website. Other good sources of local information on bodies of water are Parks and Wildlife, and Fishing and Game authorities (be sure to obtain proper licenses if you have plans to fish or hunt!!!). However, when seeking local knowledge there is no substitute for engaging with people in the know. With a humble and friendly approach to a relevant social networking community, those in the know will be more than happy to share insights with you that will enhance your boating vacation . You can learn everything from where to find the cheapest fuel (or perhaps where to find fuel with no ethanol for those boaters who prefer to avoid these fuel additives) to boat ramps with quality surfaces and substantial water depth. Before launching your boat on an unfamiliar ramp, consider walking down the ramp and into the water to inspect the ramp surface, and water depth. For water sports enthusiasts there are a significant number of social networking websites where you can learn about the body of water to which you’re headed, but you’ll also find people very happy to provide snacks, drinks, and most importantly gas money if you are willing to bring some new friends out on the water with you go to wakeboarder.com, go to forums and the topic “find a pull”). Not only will you have the benefit of cost savings, but there is nothing like having a local in your boat as you are learning water depths, smooth water spots, and other factors critical for a successful day on the water. There are several sources, but an easy place to start is to Google “wakeboarding ____________ (insert the body of water to which you are headed) You will come across sites Like PDXWAKE.com if you are headed to the Northwest, or perhaps 360Wakeboarding.com if you will be in the Texas Hill Country. You might also try searching for communities by boat manufacturer. TheMalibucrew.com has members from all over the nation. As you explore their forums you’ll find people from all over the country that have started threads about how fantastic their home lake or river is. Pick one of these sites and post a thread asking for advice on your vacation destination. Even better, challenge your kids to uncover this information for you. It will begin to invest them fully in the trip, and inspire them to look forward to the adventure!
Family flexibility is essential in any vacation , but when you are bringing a boat along, it is the secret to success. If you are a long time boat owner, you undoubtedly have your own stories of factors beyond your control that can keep you off of the water. One of the simplest strategies for vacation success is to establish family flexibility as a theme for your trip. One way to ensure this is to invest your family in the planning by asking them to research alternative activities. While you will generally aspire to spend most of your vacation time on the boat, there are literally hundreds of factors which may impact your plans. Especially in a warm weather location, a long day on the water is challenging to repeat day after day. You need to invest some energy in providing a menu of fun that your family can choose from for the duration of your trip. A great place to start is the website of your vacation destination.
It’s important to build a diverse list of ideas that you would be comfortable choosing from in the event your boat time is curtailed. You might also consider bringing some basic go to solutions, even if you never unpack them. Especially with young kids, a portable DVD player can keep kids from the wrong kind of interaction on the car ride. You may also consider bringing along the Wii, PSP, or XBOX 360 if you own one. You could choose to stand on principle and plan that everyone is going to be active and be outside. If you are at a waterfront destination when the weather turns bad, you will be very thankful if the kids have something to occupy them indoors for a few hours at a time. Also on the technology front, bring an iPod or mp3 player. You can use these on almost every tv and or DVD player in the world now. Head to Radio Shack to pick up a simple Y Adapter for around $5.00. You might choose to assign downloading music for dinners to each of the kids. This helps invest them in the trip planning and provides a moment to which they will look forward (their music choice night at dinner). You should also consider bringing some traditional board games, a deck of cards, and some dice. Many families have established “Spades”, “Hearts”, “Bunko” and other family game traditions that started on a vacation , and continue for generations.
Family meals can be the highlight, or the nightmare of a family vacation . My advice is to keep it simple! Pizza night, big frozen lasagna’s from Costco with some pre mixed salads are perfectly acceptable and widely loved family meals. Easy mac is a fantastic quick fix sure to please a hungry kid of any age. I would also suggest that you consider paper plates and plastic flatware. I know this may feel a bit environmentally insensitive, but you should balance that with the enjoyment of those who would otherwise spend a lot of time doing dishes. A sure hit, and good assignment for the kids, is making cookies. You can purchase tubes of pre made cookie dough for less than $3.00. The kids will have fun personalizing their cookies, and they will unknowingly be helping in the food preparation for the whole family.
You have to be prepared in order to maximize your family’s fun on a boating vacation . Even if you are a savvy trailering veteran, you too will benefit from detailed planning. This starts with a check up for both your towing vehicle and the trailer. There are a few things you can and should do yourself. First check and correct the tire pressure for your tow vehicle and trailer (don’t forget to check the spare tires as well!). Not only is this is a significant fuel economy enhancement, but a substantial safety issue. All lug nuts on the tow vehicle and trailer should be appropriately tightened (be sure you have a tire wrench that will fit your trailer lug nuts in case they are not identical to those of your tow vehicle). Then, you should check, and if necessary charge your batteries (both boat and tow vehicle).Next ensure your trailer is appropriately greased at all fittings, and of course, check all of your lights. Before heading out, it is also a very good idea to check all of the critical fluids in your vehicle. Your engine coolant, brake fluid, and transmission fluid will be called upon to help your vehicle deal with the strain of towing your boat. As you are doing this, do not fill your boat with gas. This negatively impacts fuel economy and makes towing the boat unnecessarily difficult for your vehicle. In your route planning, which is addressed below, you should find a gas station relatively close to your destination where you should fill up your boat. You should also carefully plan how you pack your vehicle and boat. Generally speaking the load needs to be balanced to ensure the trailer is level while towing. Check your vehicle and trailer owner’s manuals for additional tips and specific weight and towing limits. For wakeboarders, do not place boards in your tower racks as you trailer your boat. The wind resistance at vehicle towing speeds and accompanying stress on your tower and tower connections at the fiberglass is substantial. Additionally, it’s a good idea to cover tower speakers and tower lights with plastic wrap to make the removal of bugs you will encounter on the road easy. If you have not had your brakes checked in a while, this is an ideal time to have that done. Last but certainly not least, be sure to put the drain plugs in!!!
Once your vehicle and trailer are ready, it’s time to focus on the route to your destination. While Google maps and MapQuest are both great sources, check in with your vacation destination host to ensure the directions are both correct, and represent the smartest route choice given that you will be towing a boat. You may consider choosing a slightly longer route to ensure you are on high quality roads, that will maximize fuel economy, and minimize potential damage to your boat. Gravel roads should be avoided as much as possible as the rocks will be thrown against the hull of your boat. There are protective mud flaps you can buy that attach to your hitch to minimize this. As you choose your route, you should be aware of service stations, rest areas, and food options along the way. A few well spaced out stops where you can visually inspect the tow vehicle, the trailer connections, and the lights while allowing your family to stretch their legs is a wise use of a few minutes. You may also consider a quick call to your insurance agent to ensure you understand whether you are covered for towing service regarding both your vehicle and your trailer. If you are not pleased with your towing coverage, you can look into companies like Sea Tow and evaluate the protection plans that they offer. Not only will they help you on the water if you run into problems, but some of the plans will also cover you in case you run into issues with your trailer on the road. Finally, if you have not towed a boat in some time, or are relatively new to trailering, it is a very good idea to practice around town before you have the whole family with all of the accompanying distractions in the car. You likely have a friend who is experienced at trailering and would be very happy to show you some tips. For many, backing the trailer is the most challenging aspect of towing a boat. One method is to place one hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. Move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. Be sure to make small adjustments, and use both of your side mirrors. It is easier to back the trailer to the left as you will have better visibility to any potential obstacles on your side of the vehicle. Minimize the number of times you must back up by evaluating food stops and gas stations before you enter them. Look for an exit where you will not need to back up, before you go in. Towing a boat is not easy for everyone, and it demands focus. It is not a bad idea to establish some new rules for behavior in the car. You will need to be tuned in to the sounds and feel of the road to quickly identify if you may have a potential issue to investigate. With good preparation, and support from your family , trailering your boat to a vacation destination should go smoothly.
There are several things that can go wrong with your boat that can reduce your time on the water. However there are things you can do to expedite your return to the fun. First, learn where the boat service centers are located near your destination that are familiar with your boat brand and model (boat mechanics are also the best sources of information on where the underwater obstacles are on a lake – they are the ones fixing the boats who hit them.) A few minutes on the phone with the manager of a shop could pay some unexpected benefits in the unfortunate circumstance that you have to call on them while you are on your vacation . Especially during the summer months, shops are at their peak workload. A friendly rapport with the manager may help you move up in the line of work (and might help if you need to be towed in from the water). A question worth asking is whether the shop also rent boats. It is rare, but not unheard of for a shop owner or manager to allow you to use a loaner boat, sometimes for free especially if the work they are doing for you is substantial. Further, they likely have good relationships with local boat rental outfits (as they are probably maintaining their fleets as well) While it may be painful to pay to rent a boat when you own one, it is a cost you should consider. If you evaluate it as part of the overall vacation investment you are making, it may be tolerable in order to maintain the dream you had for this family experience. There are some boat rental outfits that would be happy to deliver the boat to your rental property – don’t hesitate to ask if they offer this service. If you do find yourself in the situation where you need a boat, one phone call that results in a working boat in the water, ready for your family, is the best result you can ask for.
While a quality boat in good working order rarely has serious problems, there are some quickly fixable issues that do pop up on occasion. Many of these can be easily remedied if you are prepared. Consider purchasing a battery jumpstarting device. Just plug these in at home to get them charged, and they will deliver a jump starting charge if you need it. Many of these chargers will also be equipped with an air compressor and lights which can also come in handy. Another great item to bring on vacation is a replacement prop. Look on Craigslist or stop by your local shop to see if they have any used props for sale. Often times, boat rental shops will sell these as well. If you ruin your prop and are lucky enough to find the right replacement while on vacation , you will undoubtedly pay a premium for it. Pulling a prop yourself is very possible, but don’t attempt it without a prop puller. If you change your prop in the water, plan on dropping essential pieces and watching them sink just beyond your reach! Just bring extra components but definitely tie a rope to the prop and attach it to the boat before you begin. One of the most common issues with props is the incredible ability of tow sport ropes to wrap themselves in them. Pack a knife capable of cutting tow sport ropes (this will also come in very handy if your anchor gets stuck on the bottom), as well as a mask and snorkel. With these tools you will likely be back on the water in a matter of minutes. Fuel gauges on small runabouts are notoriously inaccurate. Safely and securely stowing a small gas container in your boat can help you quickly resume your day of boating. Hopefully in your planning, you know where the nearest on the water gas is located, in case you need additional fuel. A few other essentials you should have aboard are replacement fuses, flashlights, duct tape, a tool kit, and a first aid kit. With regular maintenance of your boat, and a bit of planning, you will be well prepared for your vacation .
A boating vacation can be an incredible family experience that yields lifetime memories. If you plan carefully, gain some local knowledge, instill a sense of family flexibility, and ensure you have some essential tools and back up items, you will greatly enhance the chances that your boating vacation will live up to your dreams.
See you on the water!