Hi-Performance Boat Operation – Part 3: Prep & Drive

Pre-run inspection of a 700 SCi powered DCB catamaran. Photo credit: Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.
Twin OptiMax 300XS outboards rigged on a 30-foot Spectre catamaran.

In my previous post (Part 2) regarding high performance boat operation, I reviewed basic information on rigging fit and function. Now its time to head to the ramp.

While the boat is still on the trailer, walk around for a visual inspection of the hull.  Next, climb aboard for a visual inspection of the interior and engine compartment (motor well for outboards): ensure everything is in place and secure. Don’t forget the drain plug(s)!  Check your other safety accessories: aboard? In secure locations?

Helm of a DCB M35 catamaran powered by twin 700 SCi sterndrives.
Helm of 50-foot Cigarette Marauder with twin 1350 sterndrives.

Once your boat is launched,  review the helm to familiarize yourself with the location and function of all instruments and controls. Make sure the steering wheel, throttle and shift controls are well within your reach and that you are comfortable with their operation.

If your boat is fitted with K-Plane trim tabs, be comfortable with the location and operation of the tab trim switches. The driver needs to know the location and function of accessory switches such as bilge blower, bilge pump, running lights, horn, courtesy lights and related fuses, or circuit breakers.

All boats should be equipped with a safety stop switch and a lanyard. Prior to starting the engine(s), attach the safety stop switch lanyard to your life jacket! Once the engine(s) are started, verify all engine and vessel gauges are in proper working order and engine/vessel functions are normal. Test the safety stop switch function before you head out.

Performance Boat School Instructor Brad Schoenwald (R) with student driver. Photo credit: Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.

The Mercury Racing Guide to Hi-Performance Operation recommends you be accompanied on your first ride by a person experienced in high performance boat operation and handling. I would go one further: I advise all owners of performance boats to attend a performance boat driving school. I spoke with Brad Schoenwald, an instructor at Tres Martin’s Performance Boat School, to get a feel for what you can expect to learn and experience.

Performance Boat Driving School founder Tres Martin providing classroom instruction. Photo credit: Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.

Brad said their school is a two day course. The first day is eight hours of classroom work — chalkboard and multimedia instruction — covering everything from basic boating laws and regulations to performance boat hull types, trim, power and propulsion. Brad said they get students with the full range of experience attending their courses — from experienced drivers (including former boat racers like our own Fred Kiekhaefer) to first time performance boaters and non-boaters who want to become educated consumers.

Tres Martin provided instruction to Mercury Racing employees in Fond du Lac. Photo credit: Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.

I think it is important to approach each new boat with an open mind – as if it was your first boating experience. Every boat is different. One vee bottom is different from another. Moving from a vee-bottom to a catamaran is a different experience again. Brad reinforced my “open mind” approach.

Tres providing classroom instruction at Mercury Racing. Photo courtesy of Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.

“Novices are the least [predisposed to] instruction. They have no preconceived notions as to what is right and wrong. Folks with lots of boating experience and exposure to performance boats learn they were doing some things incorrectly,” said Brad.

Brad continued, “Performance,” is about human performance. The goal is for a student to able to demonstrate their skill upon completion of the two-day course.”

Back to School – Day 1:

The classroom work consists of 11 lessons. The performance boat agenda includes the following topics:

Lesson plans are tailored to specific hull types.

Day 2: The Art of Boat Driving

Students progress at their own pace. Photo credit: Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.
Students are trained in their own boats. Photo credit: Tres Martin's Performance Boat School.

On-water training includes trailering, launching and basic dock maneuvers.  “Students are trained one-on-one with an instructor in their own boats. This way, they are certified in the exact craft they will be using. The on-water training may be anywhere from two to eight hours. It all depends on the individual and the time they need to feel comfortable and competent behind the wheel,” said Brad.

In-boat training consists of applying the topics and skills learned in the classroom the day before. A majority of boats have been sterndrive powered; however, they have trained a good number of people in outboard catamarans as well. All in-boat training is progression based, with students learning various maneuvers at their own pace.  Visit Matt Trulio’s Speed on the Water website for additional information on this school and upcoming course dates.

This information should help you prepare for the boating season ahead. Be safe and smart out there!





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2 thoughts on “Hi-Performance Boat Operation – Part 3: Prep & Drive”

  1. We just purchased a 39′ Cigarette Topfish I want to know everything I can learn about the boat since most of the time it will just be my fiancé (who is an experienced boater) & I on the water.

    1. Hi Donna:
      Awesome choice. Your going to love your Cigarette Topfish. We provide the power – Cigarette Racing are the manufacturer and thus the experts when it comes to the Topfish. Contact information is provided on the Cigarette Racing website. Have fun with your new boat!

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