How to start ski-boating

(Originally published in the July 2019 issue of Ski-Boat)

By Adam Waites

SO you’ve fished a bit hey? Maybe you’ve caught one or two fish on your friends’ boats or been on too many charter trips to name. Maybe you’ve been on the fishing ski for a few years and picked up some tricks or you’re a diver who has gotten sick and tired of the shore dive swims through the waves. Maybe you’re just a newbie who is drawn to the sea and promises of perfect days offshore with good hauls of fish. Whichever it is, you’ve been playing in the amateur tables so far and you’ve decided to up your game and join the big leagues with your first boat…

Well, for starters, you’re at the bottom of a huge learning curve with enough pitfalls along the way to make you tear your hair out before a single line evens hits the water. It’s not all doom and gloom though, and there are definitely a few tips and tricks both on and off the water to cut down the trials and tribulations you’ll most certainly be facing along the way. Take it from someone who has gone through the grinder over the last two years — you won’t regret it!

Congratulations on your choice to join us out on the bounding main. What will your choice of craft be? Not many of us have the money or experience to order a Butt or Yeld new with all the trimmings, so chances are you’ll be looking at a second hand boat. Luckily, there has never really been such a good time to pick up some amazing deals. Read Nick Landzanakis’s series of articles on trailer and boat purchasing in the July to November 2016 issues of SKI-BOAT ( because this will give you a necessary base of knowledge before you even approach a seller.
Aside from knowing what to look out for, be patient. Don’t jump on the first boat you see unless you know in your heart of hearts it’s for you. If you wait a bit and are more vigilant you’ll soon find that amazing deals jump up all the time and you can get your dream starter boat at a steal.
Here’s another tip which I shouldn’t really be giving away — change your search settings to inland provinces. That boat from Northwest that gets used five times a year over December is often in better condition and going cheaper than a hard-used Durban boat being sold for an upgrade.

So Gumtree has lit up and your dream 15’6” Acecraft only driven by an old lady on the dam once a month has popped up for a basement bargain fee. Here’s where you swallow your pride and call one or two of your mates who have at least five to ten years of boat ownership under their belts. You’re going to want to propose a day of boat viewing with at least a six pack involved (call it a retainer payment for their experience).
You have to have an experienced eye run over your potential buy. Without it you as a newbie will have no clue what to look for and it’s a good way to get burned. If the first glance is good, then take it out at least once on the dam and again, have your experienced friend put it through its paces before making that final call to shell out.

Well done, you’re now the owner of a very large laundry list of problems that your new purchase has just racked up and which you’ll soon begin to encounter. Do you know where to get cheap bearings if you break down on the way to Vidal? What about an anchor rope because, in your excitement, you didn’t notice the one on the boat was 25m long? The umfaan buoy has a hole that you missed; do you know where to replace it before you launch in the morning?
All of these and so many more questions can crop up and ruin a day, so get them out the way as soon as possible. Now here is where your “go-to guy” (aka the individual ski-boat supplier) jumps in. Everyone has their own “go-to guy” and (hint, hint) they aren’t always the first result on Google. If you ask around at your club you’ll find out who everyone recommends for everything from rigging to trailer repairs and engine services. Cultivate a list of these guys and stay loyal, and you will almost always find cheaper, faster and friendlier service than you do at the big boys, with the added bonus that you just might be able to find that one missing part at 10pm on a Friday night.
Overlook this step and you’ll find simple problems becoming very expensive and timely issues. Each club will have their own recommendations, but generally you want the following list at a minimum:
• Recommended surveyor and/or skippers’ instructor;
• A good mobile mechanic or trustworthy boat shop (good luck changing your bearings on your own);
• A fibreglass/boat repair shop (the trick here is to find out where the local boat shops send their work and cut out the middleman);
• A trailer guy;
• A sinker guy (easily overlooked until you see the prices at the chain shops and what one session in foul ground can cost you);
• A reel servicer (bonus if they fix rods);
• An electrician;
• Rigging suppliers (chain and rope);
• An anchor guy;
• A parts and general gear supplier (find out the wholesaler for the big boys, and you can cut huge margins off your bill).

Talking about clubs, join your local one. Join five if you can. Support your club by going to to the events and fishing in monthly mugs. Everything a club offers is what you should be sucking up and using as an opportunity to learn and connect. You will learn 1 000 times faster than the know-it-all who joins a club for that boat number and is never seen at the mahogany reef. Club Whatsapp groups are a modern marvel that will provide you with endless ideas on their own. You will find it takes a while, but soon everything from marks, to where the fish are chowing and a multitude of other tricks and trips will open up to you.

Would you run on for the rugby first team without going to a single practice? No, right? So why would you risk taking out your new baby without a bit of practice? There are a lot of things about boat handling that most courses don’t teach and of course every boat is different. You’ll save a hell of a lot of stress and tears down the line if you spend one windy day at DUC trailering, untrailering, launching, beaching and generally learning the nuances of your boat. Once you’ve got a handle on these niggly processes and how to do them as efficiently as possible, you’ll find you have a far less stressful time when you’re first in the queue at a real launchsite.
This extends to tackle and gear as well. Suddenly you’re not just packing two rods onboard and you’re responsible for the whole day’s equipment. Don’t ruin your and your crew’s day because you didn’t get everything ready in advance.

Here’s a mistake that myself and a lot of young guys make at first; we think that because we’re regular crew members we can now transfer to standing behind the helm and not make a mess of it. Yes, crewing is a good place to start, but you’ll struggle to figure out your boat if you think the occasional trip on a mate’s boat qualifies you. You want them to bring their skills and experience across to your craft, so it’s a good idea to bring a qualified skipper onboard for your first few launches before you take out all your mates or that special someone you’ve been telling about the length of your “vessel”.
It’s not just the experience you need, but also a fresh eye on things that helps. I’ve seen guys do stupid things in their excitement — like not take out a breakneck pin while launching — that could easily have been avoided with a bit of help. Suck up your pride and ask for help.

Now we’ve got past the nitty gritty and it’s finally time to fish.
Here’s a scenario where you have two choices: You’re launching out of DUC and you’ve heard the ’bek are chowing on anchor in 90m off Ballito, and there are a few daga on the inside reefs off Umhlanga on the drift. Which one do you attempt?
Option one involves anchoring — a difficult and dangerous thing to get right at depth — and you’ll be taking your boat on an almost 100km round trip into high seas to get onto very tight pinnacles. On the other hand, the second option — targeting daga — represents a similar prospect for success and a 35km round trip, fishing over a wide area on the drift with no anchoring.
As a new boat owner it’s advisable to err on the side of caution and pick option two. That is, until you have learned enough about your boat and abilities to push to that next level. By staying within your comfort level you’ll almost always have a better time and catch more fish. Cases like this differ across the country, but the lesson is the same: build up your arsenal of skills so you’re not taking a knife to a gunfight.

For the fishing ski and diving guys making the transition, the best advice I ever got was to “treat the boat like a motorised paddleski”. (Thanks Darren.) Use the perks of the boat (changing spots, more rods and lots of livebait access) rather than trying to get too clever for your own good.
Once you have learned enough to build up your confidence levels, then take the next step. You’ll often find the guys with the best inshore basics having a way better time (and a cheaper fuel bill) than the new hotshot who has picked up a 24ft Buttcat and wants to head 40km out to sea to chase the fish stories he’s heard in the bar.

You’ll find yourself going back to lots of old articles in this magazine and some of the concepts will finally just click now that you have the experience of being a skipper. There is a mountain of info out there that you might have noticed before but which will now be far more relevant to you. Some of the ideas just don’t translate until you’ve experienced them as a skipper. Take advantage of this and don’t forget to constantly push your education around the boating and fishing aspects of your new pastime; you’ll find yourself being rewarded tenfold by this extra knowledge.
You’ll go through hell and heaven on this fun journey you’re embarking on, but hopefully by following these tips as you get started you will have to deal with far less of the hell part.
If you’re careful not only will you have more fun, but you’ll also find you learn more than you ever thought you could about the sea, fishing and yourself at the helm of your own vessel.

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