Great Lakes Skipper Blog

  • Fall into Late-Season Boating

    There's so much to love about autumn: the beautiful colors on the trees, the crisp air, the special blue of the November sky. There's no line at the boat launch, lots of space at the docks, and open water as far as the eye can see. It's nice to have the beach and water to oneself.

    With the end of peak boating season, marinas scale back services. You might not be able to refuel late in the day if the pumps close early, and you can't count on bait shops to stay open in the evening, either. Take enough bait, snacks, water, and supplies with you, and fill your gas tank before you depart. If you carry a spare gas can, fill it, too, and be sure to store it safely (not in the engine compartment or cabin).

    How are your lights? The days grow shorter, which means you might be getting back to the dock after dark. Replace burned-out bulbs when you find them. Cold temperatures shorten battery life, both in your boat's system and in flashlights, so carry extra batteries for your small electronics, charge your cell phone, and be sure you've got a full charge on your boat's battery.

    Temperatures fall after sunset, of course, and sunset comes early this time of year. Check the forecast and dress accordingly. Layer up! you can always shed a coat or sweater if you get too warm, but you can't add one if you don't have one on the boat. Bring along an extra sweatshirt or jacket just in case.

    Speaking of jackets, where's your life jacket? Carry a personal flotation device for everyone on board, and insist that children wear one. The Skipper recommends that every passenger wear a life jacket, but the law requires that kids under 13 wear theirs.

    A bimini top with side curtains or a camper top can help hold in warmth, whether that heat comes from a heater or just passengers' body heat. Be sure the driver can see all around while in motion, though, and keep the boat ventilated; carbon monoxide can't be smelled and can make you sick before you realize it's building up.

    Now, fill your travel cups with hot cocoa, buckle on your life jackets, and have some fall fun!


  • Waves of Wonder: 5 Activities for Young Boaters

    School's back in session, which means (for most of us) no more long weekdays with the kids on the boat. Make the most of weekend boat rides with fun and educational activities that everyone can enjoy.

    The road trip guessing-game "I Spy" gains a new dimension on boat rides, where interesting things can be "spied" in the water and sky as well as on the shore. Kids can spy green fish, white birds, red buoys, and countless colored boats, and have fun guessing each other's items.

    Another game has no name that we know of, but it can be played anywhere, not just on the boat. Starting with the letter A, look around and see how many things you see that begin with that letter. One great thing about playing this game around the docks: you're bound to see a Zodiac inflatable watercraft to finish up the alphabet.

    Do you see any unusual or migrating birds? What kind of seashell is that? Keep pocket-size field guides for birds and fish in your boat's glove compartment, so that when a young boater asks, "What's that?" you can have fun looking up the answer together. If you have cellular service on the water, you can also search the Internet on your smartphone or tablet for more pictures of the animals you see.

    Take turns sharing a pair of binoculars to examine faraway features like lighthouses, buoys, or boats on the horizon. If you're boating at night, point the binoculars skyward and marvel at the stars. Is the moon up? Examine its craters and talk about the moon's phases. Download a free night sky app to help young stargazers identify stars and planets.

    Bring crayons, markers, and drawing paper so little (and big!) artists can draw what they see from the boat. Store drawing materials in a plastic bag to protect them from water.

    Speaking of bags, dry bags come in handy for keeping spare clothes safe. As it's usually cooler on the water, pack sweatshirts and jackets just in case. If it's warm enough to swim, carry a change of clothes for each child so they can put on fresh duds after drying off.

    Always make sure children are buckled into properly-sized life jackets. Even infants should wear a life vest. If you bring a baby in a car seat on board, please don't buckle him or her into it; if the seat goes overboard, it will prevent the life jacket from helping the child to float.

    Every boat ride is an opportunity to encourage kids' curiosity and to help them slake their thirst for knowledge about our world. This fall, make the most of every moment.

  • 5 Places for Fall Boating

    The days are growing shorter, but the light show of autumn colors is only just beginning. Have you ever taken a boat ride to see the changing leaves? If you're the planning type, check the Fall Foliage Prediction Map to see where color is peaking, or just take the boat out to your favorite lake and see what you can see. Here are five of the Skipper's picks for colorful fall boating.

    Door County, Wisconsin doorcounty

    Fall colors are beautiful all across the upper Midwest, but autumn in Door County is something special. Canoe, kayak, sail, or motor along the rocky shores of this peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. There's much to explore for all ages with color tours and events like the Harvest Festival in Sturgeon Bay and the Fall Harvest Fest at Lautenbach's Orchard Country.


    Damariscotta, Maine IMG_2070

    The hardwood forests of New England become a veritable fireworks show in early October, and the coastal inlets of Maine are wonderful places to explore by boat. Don't miss the world-famous Pumpkinfest and Regatta in Damariscotta. The festival celebrates the beloved round orange squash on the second weekend in October. The regatta pits "squashbucklers" against each other, racing boats made from gigantic pumpkins. Even the buoys are pumpkins!


    Lake Chelan, Washington chelan The Pacific Northwest's scenery is always beautiful, but it becomes extraordinary in the fall. Long, curving Lake Chelan is one of the region's most popular and gorgeous destinations for hikers and boaters alike. The daytime temperatures are comfortably warm well into October, so paddle and fish the clear, cold water in your own boat (or rent one). Just a few hours' scenic drive from Seattle, Lake Chelan stretches across two national forests and promises a magnificent color show each fall.


    Saugatuck, Michigan saugatuck

    Long a destination for artists, the western Michigan town of Saugatuck is rich with galleries, antique shops, and romantic bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Spend the day pontoon boating on Kalamazoo Lake, or take a bigger boat cruising down the Kalamazoo River to Lake Michigan. Explore the Saugatuck Dunes, sip local wine, and take plenty of photos to preserve the memories of Saugatuck's autumn beauty.


    Price Lake, North Carolina price lake

    Along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock is Price Lake. Rent a canoe, kayak, or rowboat and take in the fall colors from this 47-acre lake. Price Lake is well-stocked with fish and is surrounded by hiking trails. Enjoy the mild North Carolina autumn at the foot of Grandfather Mountain.

    As always, wear your life jacket and don't drive drunk. What's your favorite fall boating spot?

  • It's Labor Day Weekend!


    Here in the USA, Labor Day falls on the first Monday in September. Just as Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, Labor Day marks its end as children head back to school and the daylight hours grow shorter. Labor Day is a very busy time for boaters seeking to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment from this three-day weekend. Lakes and rivers will be crowded, so it's extra-important to be extra-careful.

    Boat Sober. The Skipper says this all the time, but it's always good advice: if you're at the helm, steer clear of alcohol. Driving a boat while intoxicated is as dangerous (and illegal) as driving a car under the influence. Partying passengers can be distracting, too, so take care to be aware of your surroundings when things get rowdy.

    Wear It. Carry a life jacket for every passenger. Insist that children wear their life vests; your local laws probably require it.

    Know the Signs. Watch for other boats, skiers, and tubers, and observe the "rules of the road." You can't control what other boaters do, but you can keep control of your own craft - and your own behavior. Drive defensively and keep your wits about you.

    Use a Spotter. If you're towing a tuber or water-skier, appoint a sober passenger to keep watch on the person being towed.

    Have Fun! Enjoy yourselves, friends, and get back to the dock safely.

  • Make a Splash with Water Trampolines

    Editor's Note: We wrote this article for the July issue of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt, and the good people at that magazine have granted us permission to repost it. Many thanks!

    What’s more fun than a trampoline in the backyard? How about a trampoline in the water? If you’ve visited Destin, Florida, you’ve probably seen the Crab Island Water Park on Destin’s famous sand bar and party spot. Fun for kids of all ages, it’s made up of inflatable slides, balance beams, and trampolines.

    Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Photo: Destin Vacation Boat Rentals

    Like a swim raft, a water trampoline must be anchored in water of a safe depth. The manufacturer Rave Sports recommends smaller trampolines for shallow water. Larger trampolines provide a bigger bounce and, consequently, a deeper plunge into the water, so anchoring a big trampoline in deep water is important to keep jumpers safe. Unanchored, a water trampoline makes a free-floating raft with space for several friends to lounge.

    Water too cold? The more ruggedly built inflatable trampolines, like the Rave Sports Bongo line, can be set up on land, too. Check with the manufacturer to make sure your bouncer can be used this way without damage; one sharp stick or jagged shell is all it takes to pop an inflatable.

    As seen at Crab Island, slides and logs can be attached to trampolines to create a mini water park in your favorite swimming hole. Great Lakes Skipper carries complete packages from Rave Sports with trampoline, slide, and balance log, plus ladder and pump. Inflate, assemble, add your own anchor, and watch your beach become the most popular around. An exciting addition to any trampoline setup is the launch, a squishy inflated bag that swimmers can use to catapult each other into the water. Rave Sports includes a launch with its Aqua Jump 150 set, found on our website.

    pic1 Rave Sports Aqua Jump Eclipse 150 with log & launch

    The best fun is safe fun. Supervise the kids and make sure everyone playing on the trampoline is wearing a life vest. Don’t dive into shallow water, or water of unknown depth.

    Whether your swimming spot is a beach resort, a summer camp, or a single dock, a water trampoline can enhance the enjoyment of you and your guests. Here’s to buoyant, bouncy fun!

  • Mad Props: Replacing Your Boat's Propeller

    You're cruising along your favorite lake or river, and you feel a little bump. The boat keeps running just fine, but when you get back to the dock, you check your propeller and find you've cracked or bent a blade. The damage might not look too bad, but even a little crack in a propeller blade can negatively impact performance, reduce fuel efficiency, and cause costly damage to the engine itself. In this instance as in so many others, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: Install a new propeller as soon possible.

    Choose wisely. Aluminum propellers are affordable, but for durability, you can't beat stainless steel. Steel props also are reputed to be faster, adding as much as 3 knots in speed. Large boats and motor yachts with inboard motors frequently use nibral propellers, made of a nickel-brass-aluminum alloy. Make sure the propeller you choose is suitable for your motor. If in doubt, consult your local prop shop (or call Great Lakes Skipper customer service) for advice.

    Safety first. Put the boat in neutral, remove the key, and pull the kill switch to keep the engine from starting while you're working.

    Mark your spot. Mark the position of the old propeller on the shaft with a Sharpie or other marker. This takes the guesswork out of positioning the new prop.

    Off with the old. Use a ratchet set to loosen the nut, then pull the old propeller off the shaft. A prop puller makes this part easy. If you don't own one, some marinas and shops have them for rent. Without a puller, your most important tool might be patience. If your propeller is cracked or broken, avoid cutting yourself on any sharp edges. Once the propeller is off, inspect the shaft for damage. And keep track of your hardware! The only thing worse than hunting for lug nuts in a snowdrift is searching for a prop nut in the water.

    On with the new. Grease the prop shaft well with a quality marine lubricant, and slide the new propeller on. Align the prop with the mark you made, and carefully tighten the nut. You're done!

    Take good care. For best performance, pull your propeller and clean and lubricate the shaft as recommended in your manual (usually every 50-100 hours). Before each outing, check your propeller for damage to avoid unpleasant surprises.

  • Hot Stuff! Boating During the Dog Days

    The ancients blamed the hot weather of July and August on Sirius, the intensely bright Dog Star. During these "dog days," an afternoon on the water can be especially refreshing, but hot weather can present boaters with challenges unique to the season.

    Watch the Weather. The number on the thermometer doesn't tell the whole story, so check the heat index before heading out. So-called popup thunderstorms are common on hot days, and while they don't usually last long, they can pack quite a punch. As always, if you see lightning, head for port.

    Performance.  Hot, humid summer weather reduces engine power and can knock your speed down by as much as 3 or 4 mph. It can't be helped, but it's nothing to worry about, either. If your boat is otherwise working properly, lower performance in hot weather is normal.

    Expansion. Heat causes vapor to expand, meaning that gas tanks that get hot can swell. Make sure your tank's vent, if present, is open and unobstructed, and be careful opening portable gas cans, as the pressure caused by expanding vapor can make gasoline splash out.

    Overheated? If your engine overheats, shut it down immediately. Letting an engine run while it's too hot can cause serious (and expensive) damage. Once the engine's off, you can start troubleshooting.

    Keep Your Cool, Too. The sun feels so good...until it doesn't. Protect yourself against sunburn with sunblock cream and relax under a shady bimini boat top. Just like you top up your engine's coolant before launch, keep yourself hydrated by drinking water, juice, or non-caffeinated soft drinks. Cold beer and cola are especially delicious on hot days, but alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, which can dry out your system. Switch up alcohol and caffeinated beverages with water to stave off dehydration. And please, boat sober: driving drunk is as dangerous and illegal on the water as it is on the highway.

    Know the Signs. Headaches and nausea are two signs of heat exhaustion. Muscle cramps, fatigue, confusion, and rapid heartbeat also signal that the body is overheating. Cool off in an air-conditioned cabin or other shady spot, and sip water or a sports drink. Lay some cool, wet cloths on your skin and rest. If you don't feel better after fifteen minutes, seek emergency medical attention; heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke, which can be deadly.

    Troubleshooting an Over-heating Engine
    Preventing Overheating in Boat Engines
    Heat Exhaustion

  • Bimini Season: Getting a Perfect Fit

    Summer at Great Lakes Skipper is bikini bimini season! Did you know that, as long as the size is right, almost any bimini top can be installed on any boat? Here's how to find your bimini top size, whether your boat is big or itsy-bitsy.

    Measure once. This part's easy. Decide how much of your boat you want covered by a top. Then, using a tape measure, find the width and length of that area.

    Find your center. The mounting point for the top's deck hinges will be at about the middle of the bimini top on each side of the boat - in other words, about halfway between the top's front and back edges. After determining where the hinge mounting location will be on each side of the boat, measure the distance between these mounting points to determine the width of top you need. This measurement is not the same as your boat's beam measurement. Bimini frames have some ability to flex to fit boats a few inches wider; this range is indicated in each top's description on our site.

    Measure twice. The height of the bimini top is not the same as the length of the frame arms, so you'll need that tape measure again. Standing inside the boat, measure from your mounting point straight up to determine your minimum headroom. Bimini top straps allow for two or three inches in height adjustment.

    Shop for your top. Now the fun part: shopping for your top. Great Lakes Skipper has complete bimini boat tops in a rainbow of colors, to match or contrast with your boat's color scheme. We also have replacement bimini canopies and curtains and bimini top hardware. Questions? Call us at 262-898-1855 or drop us a line at [email protected].

  • Accidents Will Happen

    With several high-profile boating tragedies in the news lately, we wonder: when something goes wrong, will you be ready? Thorough preparedness for marine disasters is beyond the scope of a blog post, so the Skipper suggests taking a boater safety course. The Boat US Foundation has free boating safety courses for each state, and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary has a list of safe boating classes, both fee-based and free. Here are five points for preparedness.

    File a float plan. Make sure someone knows when you're leaving, where you're going, and when you intend to return. This form from the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary can be filled out online and printed, or printed as is and filled out by hand. Leave a copy with a trustworthy person on shore. A float plan helps searchers know where to start looking for you if something goes badly wrong.

    Show 'em the ropes. Before casting off, show your passengers where the fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, and emergency signals are. Have a quick lesson in operating the bilge pump, the anchor, and the radio and other communication equipment.

    Wear it! We cannot overstate it: wearing a life jacket can make the difference between life and death. Merely carrying personal flotation devices aboard your boat is not enough. The law requires children to wear life vests while boating, and the North American Safe Boating Campaign recommends that all passengers wear life jackets. If your adult passengers won't wear a PFD, have them at least hold onto one or keep it within easy reach. Consider clipping an inexpensive signal whistle to each life jacket; whistles can aid rescue if the worst happens.

    Man overboard? As soon as someone accidentally goes in the water, alert the person driving the boat and keep your eyes on the person in the water. If you're the one driving, stop the boat immediately. Throw a ring buoy or PFD to the victim and carefully bring the boat close to pick him or her up. If another person needs to go in after the victim, he or she must wear a life vest and be connected to the boat by a safety line. In calm water, recovering a conscious fallen passenger need not be very difficult, but water temperature and the passenger's health can complicate matters. Read more on handling man-overboard situations at the Boat US Foundation.

    Keep calm. So much easier said than done, right? Freaking out can make a bad situation worse, so take a breath, and then take action.

    If your boat tips or swamps, get your passengers into their life vests right away. Take a head count and stay together. Call for help using your radio or cell phone. If you can't get the boat righted and you wind up in the water, stay with the boat. Don't exhaust yourself or your signaling devices; take turns signaling and try to do so only when another boat or aircraft is within sight. Instead of shouting, use a whistle and save your vocal cords.

    As we said at the beginning, being prepared to handle a boating accident takes more than reading a short blog post. Take a look at the resources below from the Boat US Foundation, and do consider taking a boating course. It's an investment that might save a life someday.

    If You Run Aground Dealing With An Accident

  • 8 Tips for Boating After Dark


    Summer means long days, late sunsets, and soft, starlit nights. It's easy to enjoy night cruising and fishing safely when you take a little care. Check out the Skipper's tips for safe night boating.

    Be prepared. Make sure your boat's safety equipment is in good working order. Change old batteries, get a fresh can for your air horn, stock up on flares and glow sticks, and be sure you've got at least one emergency flashlight on board. Giving glowing necklaces and bracelets to your passengers not only makes for a fun atmosphere, but will make them visible in case they go overboard in the dark.

    Know your surroundings. Even familiar waters can seem strange when night falls, so don't make your first trip in new waters at night.

    Slow down. Yes, opening up and kicking up a wake is fun, but save it for daytime. And don't tow tubers or skiers after dark, either; it's just too dangerous.

    Dial it down. Your eyes adjust to the amount of light available, and they can't adapt to the darkness if you're trying to see over the bow from within a brightly-lit cockpit. Turn down the interior lights, and use a compass instead of your chartplotter; even its dim screen can interfere with your eyes' adaptation to the dark. Also, turn down the stereo. Cranking the tunes means you can't hear other boats' horns, so turn down the volume for safety's sake.

    Learn the lights. Each and every boat is required by law to have correct lighting after dark. Make sure your own navigation lights are working and visible. If you have a small craft without electrical service and think you'll be out after dark, battery-operated bow and stern lights that clamp to your boat are available. Learn all about navigation lights at Boat US Foundation. Adding rope lights and hull lights increase visibility, and dress up your boat, too.

    Wear It! As always, it's best to wear a life jacket when you're on the water, and in some instances, it is illegal to go without. Wearing a PFD can mean the difference between life and death, especially after dark. At the very least, insist that all child passengers wear a properly fitted life vest.

    Four eyes are better than two. When you're driving the boat, you can't see everything at once, especially at night. Have a trustworthy, undistracted (and sober) lookout keep an eye on your surroundings and inform you of hazards and changes in conditions.

    Save docking lights for docking. Shining your docking lights or spotlight around wrecks your eyes' dark-adaptedness and blinds other boaters. Leave the "headlights" off until you're pulling in to dock your boat - that's what they're for.

    Enjoy night boating and fishing this summer!