“What Are The Three Words Of Wisdom You Would Give To Someone New To Classic Boating?


I got an email a bit back from a fellow Woody Boater. He had just put his finished boat into the water, and it hit him, like it has to many of us. Dear god, now what? Like the dog that finally catch’s the car.. I personally have felt this countless times. And guess what, there is never an old geezer around to ask. That’s the terror and charm of this lifestyle. The tricks of the trade so to speak come out through experience. Ya, there are books. But half the fun is learning while doing. The deal is. What are the three key things. Now, figuring that each of you will give three, we will take from you the top ones and tomorrow, declare the top three. So, let them rip…

54 replies
  1. Dave Pickard
    Dave Pickard says:

    “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” at the wheel, in the water, just about anywhere.
    That and bring a bucket!

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    1) how to start a carberated engine without flooding or a flood of frustrated profanity. If the carb has an accelerator pump, pump the throttle a few times to squirt some fuel and help prime it. Then choke on if manual and leave the throttle cracked slightly open. Many carbs have a mechanical choke over ride linkage so if the throttle is too far open you are defeating the choke. Turn the key and let her crank over. If the fuel in the carb bowls has evaporated out, you may need to crank a bit to give it a chance to refill, but do it in short bursts with a rest in between to let the starter cool or you will be in the market for a new one. If you do end up flooding the engine, turn the manual choke off and go full throttle ( disables auto chokes) and crank to clear. Pull back the throttle as soon as she fires.

    I have seen people really strugle, even working up a sweat with throttle pumping and all sorts of crazy stuff, but as long as you have spark and compression, it shouldn’t be that hard.

    2) Momentum is a big factor on water. Boats oversteer. They also glide deceptively far at slow speeds even though they slow down from a plane very quickly. When docking or maneuvering slowly, make small corrections and return the wheel to center and wait for the effect. If you keep the wheel turned until the bow points where you want to go, you will massively overshoot. When approaching a dock, remember your forward speed and any wind drift will continue long after you chop the throttle. Reverse can be used as a brake, but it is not as strong as forward and there is a delay for the transmission to shift and the prop to bite.

    3) If you are over 20 or over weight it is really hard to get back in the boat without a swim ladder. Remember anything you do that is embarassing WILL be captured on video and WILL appear on YouTube so either get a ladder or stay in the boat.

  3. allen
    allen says:

    Enjoy it Now ! Be in the moment……tomorrow is never gauranteed……Summer’s a flicker!

  4. chad
    chad says:

    1) Get out on the water and have some fun.

    2) Learn something new everyday.

    3) Bring a bucket.

  5. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    1. Make sure the drain plug is in.

    2. Never pull away from the dock without checking the bilge for leaks.

    3. Wave to all of the folks standing on the dock with big smiles on their faces. One of them may be a future Woody boater!


  6. Ben Monfil
    Ben Monfil says:

    1) Check all you want, but what gets you could NEVER have been anticipated.

    2) Be patient, because everything ALWAYS takes longer than it should.

    3) Enjoy yourself, because this IS as good as it gets.

  7. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    Number ONE!!! “Lift & Sniff” every time before starting her up. Check for fumes, look things over, is it safe to crank her up??? Is there water (or some other type of liquid) in the bilge?

    This should apply to any style of boat, whether it’s a dog house engine cover or a deck hatch. Be safe, not sorry!!!

  8. Mark
    Mark says:

    Buy something “turn-key” within your budget. It’s much easier to learn the ropes of classic boating on a “good” boat rather than to learn the hard way on someone else’s piece of junk. Many first time buyers have a big dream of buying something that they will fix up themselves (and never accomplish) or they buy something shiny (because it looks good).

    Buy a boat with good bones. A good boat will retain its value when it comes time to upgrade after you’ve gotten your feet well – pun fully intended 🙂

  9. Mike M
    Mike M says:

    My guiding principal is “Vigors Black Box Theory”…I’ll summarize it here….

    “The basis of the theory is that there is no such thing as fortuitous luck at sea. The reason why some boaters survive storms or have fewer accidents than others is that they EARN their luck by diligent and constant acts of seamanship.

    Aboard every boat there is an invisible black box. Every time the skipper lifts the hatch, checks the bilge plug or takes any seamanlike precaution, he or she earns a point that goes into the black box.

    In times of stress, in heavy weather or other threatening circumstance where human skill or effort can accomplish no more, the points are cashed in as protection. The skipper has no control over their withdrawal. They withdraw themselves, as appropriate. Those skippers with no points in the box are later referred to as “unlucky”. Those with points to spend will survive – but they must start immediately in their effort to replenish their savings, for the sea offers no credit”

    This excerpt is from the excellent book “The Practical Mariners Book of Knowledge” by John Vigor.

    Don’t take anything for granted and don’t rely on anyone else to do your checking. I always ask my kids to “sniff” for me just to get them used to it. I make up another reason to open the hatch and follow behind them….

  10. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:


    1) Make sure the drain plug is in.
    2) Sniff under the engine hatch, look for water in the bilge.
    3) Turn ON the blower!
    4) Relax and enjoy your boat!

    And everything everybody else said.

  11. Rabbit
    Rabbit says:

    Great stuff. I have nothing to contribute because, to be honest, I’m the one who originally tossed the question to Matt. I’ve had plastic boats with modern engines for many years. I’m hungry for more vintage engine wisdom. Assume us newbies are not mechanics… because with modern, reliable engines you don’t need to be. What are the obvious things to check if an engine won’t start or it quits? Also, let’s talk bilges. Can you expect them to be perfectly dry? How much oily residue is normal? Trailering? I’m a sponge.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      I have never had a perfectly dry bilge even with a glass boat. Water gets in from rain, splashes, whatever, and the bilge pump can not get 100% out.

      Oil is not good for the wood and you really want to keep the bilge clean and oil free so when some does show up, you can see it and know that you need to panic. OK maybe not panic, but you know it is time to 1) check the remaining oil level and 2) find the source.

      Old engines are pretty simple machines when you get down to it. In order to start/run, you generally need compression, sparc, and the correct fuel air mix.

      Compression can be checked with a cheap tool, but it is something that will not usually be lost quickly without something bad happening like overheating, so with a known good engine you probably will not worry about it.

      Sparc includes both the intensity and timing, although again, if the engine was working, the timing is not likely to have drifted enough to be a problem. Fouled plugs can be a problem, weak coils points etc as well.

      Fuel problems are many, especially with the joy called ethanol we have today. Make sure the tank is clean and in good condition and the fuel filters are clean. There should be a filter as close to the carb inlet as possible because ethanol can cause problems in your fuel line downstream of a filter mounted in the stern. Don’t use old gas. Fuel pump diaphrams wear out, carb jets can get blocked up, floats can stick, too many issues to list or even think of them all.

  12. Ken Miller
    Ken Miller says:

    The black box theory is fascinating. Sort of like karma for boats. Or boaters. It has a really dark connotation, though, if you think about it. Sort of like fatists’ theories. Or fatalists?

    As for three, I don’t know that this late in the thread if I could offer three that haven’t already been mentioned. There are so many jewels offered up already. But Rabbit’s response above prompts me to add one more point: In this age of technology, keep your cyber friends and their wealth of personal experience and information on your radar! Forums like this and also the Boat Buzz are absolutely PRICELESS when you consider all the things that can potentially go wrong if you are trying to wander through it all by yourself.

  13. Alex
    Alex says:

    Hey Mike.

    A technical question here…

    At the end of the boating season, when my last boat has been stored, if I still have points left in my Black Box, do they roll over into the next season?

    If not, can I redeem them for scotch?

  14. Alex
    Alex says:

    My 3:

    1) Safety above all else. That means all of the above “inspect before use” advice. Plus, have on board an anchor, extra lifejackets, a tossable flotation device, a paddle, flares, a compass, a first aid kit, an air horn, a fishing knife (to cut nets or line from your prop) a VHF radio (handheld is fine), duct tape, a bailing device (bucket or hand pump), and a Leatherman (or small tool kit). If you boat early or late in the season, when water is especially cold), and/or if you venture miles offshore, I might also suggest a self-inflating raft. In a crisis, one of the above can save your boat, or save one or more lives.

    2) Stay ahead of trouble. If your boat has not been mechanically restored, consider replacing all belts, hoses, tubes, and any aging wiring before commissioning it. This should include the water pump impeller, bilge pump, and perhaps the fuel tank. One or more of these will eventually fail. Why not prevent it from happening to you while underway. Staying ahead of trouble also means servicing/maintaining your boat frequently. Classic boats do not come with odometers, recommended service intervals, or warning lights. Rarely do they come with their original engine manuals. What’s more, with seasonal usage, it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy to let the years fly by, and to assume fuel and oil are all that’s needed. You and your service tech should set up and stick with a comprehensive service/maintenance schedule. Regularly replacing something as piddly as a $50 water pump impeller (an engine’s achilles heel) can make all the difference between safe boating, or being stranded, ruining a classic motor, or burning up.

    3) To bond with your boat, use it. A boat that doesn’t make great memories isn’t really part of your life or your family’s.

    I hope these help. Wishing you many years of safe, happy boating.


  15. Frank Miklos
    Frank Miklos says:

    Don’t just put a name on a boat to have a name… Don’t put a name that is would be fadish… Some of the worst names on boats are the ones named after current movies… Don’t get to artistic with the names it is often out of character for the boat…

    Remember it is OK to have a boat with out a name… Usually the boats look better that way…

    In restoring put the boat together the way it came apart… Restore not re-design…

  16. Bill Basler
    Bill Basler says:

    This is the same feeling my wife and I had when we brought our first born home from the hospital. Where’s the manual? I know nothing about this!

    With boats, I would offer a couple pieces of advice. First, make sure you know why you’re here in the first place. Do you love boating? As in, really love being on the water? Or do you gravitate towards working on boats, showing them off, and constantly surrounding yourself with a project.

    In my case, I was a boater first. And I happened to marry someone who would rather be on the water than anyplace else. If you wife wants to be golfing with you rather than boating, that can be an issue.

    Provided you are a boater, and can find your way onto the water, with your “other boat” a beater, or a friend’s boat, the next piece of advice I would have is be patient.

    I made a decision to never put any of my projects on a deadline. I am much more relaxed this way. Regarding old boats, you really have to be prepared for all sorts of surprises…which translate into dollars and time. These things almost never take LESS time than you expected, or come in UNDER budget. Railroading a project through is the direct route to the poor house and a stressful marriage.

    I have found that this must be the reason I like to buy derelict old boats. Everything I look at is $500.00 Ha. I look for the ultra rare stuff with great collector appeal, but I buy the wrecks that can be had for pocket change. 10 years later I am still working on them. Two of the three I currently have are almost ready to float. Paying as you go, and spreading out the financial load over time is like built in financing…without having to borrow money.

    And third…I guess I am with the others who say that using them, building memories is the most important thing of all. With a boat you have a built in excuse to travel to different parts of the continent. Different bodies of water. Interesting people, food, scenery, etc around every corner.

  17. Al Campbell
    Al Campbell says:

    Hi Matt
    This is my first comment on your blog, which I check every day. It’s wonderful. I’m not sure this will be useful for you, but it might. Here’s my background, where my ideas come from… The only classic boat show’s I’ve been to are at my own club, in Vancouver BC. However, I’ve rebuilt a range of classics from a Peterborough canoe through to U22 1090. I own and operate a lager, glass hulled, with lots of wood, “argueably classic” between Vancouver and Prince Rupert . I live on a lake, always have a classic smaller boat project on the go, and use these boats on northern lakes for fishing and exploring. So inspite of not regularly attending classic boat shows, herewith suggested three key principles relating to successful, thoroughly enjoyable classic boating:

    (1) Most important is your own principle goal in classic boating, think about it, develop it, refine it, ever clarify it and have it clearly in mind as you pursue your woody boater passions. Your goal might be the joy of showing a work of great art, the joy of operating a well functioning vessel that’s survived and been maintained longer than you’ve been alive, simply because it’s so beautiful or actually any other goal you believe in dream about and most important actually work into conversations an collaborations. The Woody Boater Lifestyle is a good guiding principle, but you need your very own. Work your main idea into conversations, collaborations and exchanges, and it’s amazing what positive ideas, prospects, possibilities and opportunities surface. That boat of one’s dreams, graciously becomes available, at just the right time in life. Knowledge of how to do that tricky repair , just the right tool for the job at hand, where is the best spot to catch prawns , all tend to present just when needed. Guaranteed.

    (2) Join a boat club. www woody boater is an ideal start. However, a club with slips, covered sheds, a floating woodwork shop with good tools for you or your hired help to use, all tend to increase the amount and quality of boating, boat watching and boat talking in a community of people with high quality, widely ranging skill an knowledge sets, in terms of principle (1) above.
    (3) Recognize that above all, your classic boat is a vessel in law and in terms of common sense as well. If you plan to operate in the water, even just a little bit, know and understand the “rules of the road” for marine navigation and safety. Actually carry out the annual, itemized detailed safety inspection, have a written start up and shut down check list procedure which suits your boat, carry and know how to use life jackets, throwing line, bilge pumps, hand pumps, fire extinguishers. Understand the operating instruments like monitor gauges, radio, sounder, charts and so on. Have a re-boarding device to be deployed and used from the water by persons fully clothed and therefore heavy and in the early stages of hypothermia. Pracitce. This prudent approach puts you in control, removes most woody boater anxiety, provides justifiably confident decision making and keeps the black box mentioned in an earlier post fully topped up. This “neatness counts” approach offers up full and thorough enjoyment of your classic boat in the classiest of woody boater ways.

  18. Rich and Wley
    Rich and Wley says:

    As newbie boaters, we’re “listening” to this thread, not talking…that said, we’ve already learned that the most important, helpful, useful, necessary first words of wisdom have been: “Hang around people who know.” Second has been to “Ask questions”, as we’ve found everyone in the hobby not just willing to help, but anxious.

    So far, having spent less than five hours total in our “new” 1941 19-foot CC barrelback (we bought “Sylvia” from Matt this spring), it has been the support of many new boating friends that have made us comfortable as we climb our steep learning curve, and safe from harm to us and our beloved boat.

  19. Alex
    Alex says:

    Rich and Wley: You’ve “found everyone in the hobby not just willing to help, but anxious?” Is that anxious to help, or just anxious? Or both? Ha. In any event, welcome to classic boating. You’ve entered with one gorgeous, pampered boat.

  20. steven balcer
    steven balcer says:

    Run it they make more gas

    woody babes like woody boats so run it they make more gas

    Don’t drink and drive but run the boat, they make more gas

  21. jerri
    jerri says:

    Rich & Wley, I’m with you 100% this is another FANTASTIC thread that I am going to make crib notes on since we too are very new to this.
    I can think of only one that others haven’t mentioned. Every fall do a cleaning of the bilge, take off any floors and sides that might hide what’s lurking in “turn of the bilge”, it’s amazing how many rot producing leaves get stuck in there. While the floor is off, we like to put the boat in the water and see if any water is coming in and where. That gives us plenty of time for repairs before spring.

    • jerri
      jerri says:

      Thought of another one. Join a classic boat group, attend the meetings and listen. These guys will give you more help that any book. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, classic boaters are the most helpful bunch in the world.

  22. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    The Coast Guard cannot help you in time. Wear your PFD. You can always get another boat. There are tons of them on the Web. Good Luck

  23. Brian K
    Brian K says:

    Check the drain plug!
    Don’t come toward the dock any faster than you want to hit it!
    Relax and check the basics (this is supposed to be fun)

  24. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    1) “Run Forrest, Run!”

    2) Understand and accept the boat acronym: BOAT = B reak O ut A nother T housand. 🙂

    3) If you don’t use it – lose it (or at least preserve it), because someone else deserves the chance to dream, work on and enjoy it.

    4) Get on the boat, lose the timepiece…

    There are thousands of great boats out there, but it’s the people involved that bring them to life and create the real value, associations and memories we end up with long after the hulls have moved on.

    Before you start using the thing – take serious time to learn the rules, understand the risks and plan for problems – just in case, because you’ll have more fun as a result. You don’t walk home when the boat breaks!

    Ask, Listen and Read – many of the tips/points in the posts above are right on, well said and come from experience and common sense.

    Finally – There is no reason to hurry: Have a plan. Run easy. Take it all in. Be safe. Be courteous. Dock slow.

    Have fun…

  25. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    In some states you need to have an operators license as well as boat registration numbers. Take the course from the Coast Guard Auxillery or Power Squadron.

  26. Rabbit
    Rabbit says:

    I guess it’s my turn to share at least one piece of wisdom. This came from Sherwood Heggen, one of the many of truly great woody restorers we’re blessed with here in Minnesota/Western Wisconsin. When we were launching my GarWood Ensign last fall -after a long restoration- he told me to “sit back and admire it for a moment, because it will likely never look this good again. But then stop worrying, because it’s meant to be enjoyed.” Wise words.

  27. Tom H
    Tom H says:

    1. Keep it clean: in the bilge and around the boat. if you can’t find your PFD’s, throw cushions, fire extinguisher in a hurry you might find yourself swimming or worse.
    2. Keep it in good condition: many a trip has been cut short or ruined due to faulty or non-existant maintaninace, bad repairs or procrastination.
    3. Keep yourself in good condition: get training through the USCG or local Power Squadron classes. Get plenty of rest before heading out on the water and don’t drink and drive they both lead to errors in judgment.

  28. Bartlomiej
    Bartlomiej says:

    I read above that someone mentioned to “turn ON the blower”
    I have a 63 Lyman and I don’t have a blower on it…? Any suggestions? I honestly never thought about this, but I’ve never had any issues in the past either.

  29. Mike M
    Mike M says:

    You fall into the “Lift and Sniff” category. Even those lucky devils that have a blower should lift and sniff.

  30. l.a. overcash
    l.a. overcash says:

    check your plug , learn to work on your motor ,old boat mechanics are hard to find , and if its going to happen it will happen out there

  31. Marc D.
    Marc D. says:

    Three sets of three words:
    “Practice backing beforehand.”
    Followed by:
    “Remove all straps.”
    And finally, worth repeating:
    “Check your plug!”

  32. Gary
    Gary says:

    I bought my first boat of any kind 16 years ago from Mitch – and he said:

    1) Buy the utility, leave the runabout. You won’t regret it.
    2) Never, ever leave without ropes.
    3) Be sure it’s soaked.

    Still have it, still believe in #2 and 3.

  33. Kevin Fitzpatrick
    Kevin Fitzpatrick says:

    I have been enjoying this site every day for some time now, and I thought I would finally comment.

    Great comments by all. I would remind the new owner that these are OLD boats. If anyone has ever seen a boat dissassembled and seen the condition of the wood under the nice clean bilge paint, it can give one pause to head out into the deep blue.

    I have been in, and then out of, a sinking boat twice. The last time was in my U-22 that was in “great shape”. But when a plank splits, the split can rupture quickly into a gaping hole; in my case a hole a plank wide and a foot and a half long.

    Fortunately, wood boats can sink very slowly. We had all of our rescue gear at hand, and everyone but me stepped off the sinking bow of my Chris Craft onto the deck of a sailboat without getting wet. I swam.

    At night, in cold water or rough seas, this, now, funny story, could have been a tragedy, as one passenger was 79 years old (OK, she was also a green belt in Karate).

    So for all who can afford it, and for those who need to start saving for one; get a new bottom on your old gal, uh, I mean, boat.

    Secondly, do “man over board” drills, and make sure there is another person who can operate the boat. On my sailboat, my kids by four years old could stop the boat under sail or power, and do the steps needed to help me back in the boat or call for help (we made a song out of it).

    Thirdly, stop working on it and get out and enjoy it!! Forget out the little dings and scratches; use it like my grandfather did! Well, maybe not exactly, he was a rum runner between Canada and Michigan during Prohibition; but you get the picture.

    Oh, and check the plug….

  34. Paul Barber
    Paul Barber says:

    I sold my glass runabout this year and just returned from Lake Muskoka and Windermere Golf and Country Club with an ache in my heart and some real nice pictures of the Segwin and Winonah 2 at Gravenhurst.
    I grew up “flying” around in all kinds of cedar strips and then learned a lot about wooden boats when my dad got in to sailing.
    The glass boat got me on the water for over 12 years as the kids were growing up.Very practical, and reliable…..
    I read that piece about Vigor’s Black Box and I can ascribe to every word, I know that I am the luckiest of Boaters, I have had some of the wildest rides on the Big Lakes and have narrowly avoided the worst disasters imaginable,ones that left me contemplating the risks, the rewards and the real tragedies that happen on the water pretty well every weekend.
    I can not understand why the water has such a strong pull on me, even though I live on the shores of Lake Ontario near Toronto, the coldest darkest dirtiest,corner of an otherwise magnificent lake , the one most likely to take lives and not leave a trace.

    I have more than 3.

    Shipshape and well maintained is the only way to take your vessell from the dock.That little nagging doubt can turn in to a raging terror as the land drops from sight and the wind blows up.

    Command of a vessell with lives on board is a huge responsibility,all others aboard are just out for a fun time on the water.

    When things go wrong, always have a plan B, then C , then D, then E and if you do run out of ideas,don’t let on to the others, they will panic.

    No matter how old and beat up a boat may be, it is still stronger than the men who sail her,you can trust her.Can she trust you to not to take the boat out onto waters she was not built for?

    No matter how much time, effort, money you have spent on your boat, she may be your pride and joy, even a long held dream that you turned in to reality, be prepared to sacrifice the boat, in order to get all to safety.Do not take heroic measures and risks to save the boat,be prepared to let her go down with dignity, with no souls lost. Especially yours, skipper.

  35. 'Bone Daddy' Deems
    'Bone Daddy' Deems says:

    !. Ride with a bunch of Wood Boaters first, and often. 2. Check bilge before starting engine, and last but not least….Never sand anything until someone who has done it before tells you to! ‘Bone Daddy’

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