Boats & Jet Skis - The Basics

May 07, 2015
Boats & Jet Skis - The Basics

The evolution of the boat (in a few words)

Beginning as crude craft constructed from logs or hollowed out of tree trunks, boats have morphed into a vast range of shapes and styles (one of which is the modern jet ski) and are powered over bodies of water in a multitude of different ways.

The simplest form of boat, the dugout canoe, is still used today. Different cultures around the world have all developed some form of canoe early on in their history. From Australia to ancient Egypt, canoes have been unearthed by archaeologists dating back thousands of years. It seems humankind has a natural desire to discover what lies across the open ocean.

Canoes are propelled by the use of a paddle: a length of wood shaped like a spade that the pilot sweeps through the water creating drag to push the boat along.

With the advent of wind power, all of that changed. Adventurers and anglers could now harness the wind through the use of a sail of airfoil to catch the wind and create momentum as it either pulls or pushes the boat from A to B. This allowed boat users to cover greater distances and to spend longer periods of time on the water.

It was a pretty long time before the modern internal combustion engine was developed and applied to waterborne craft. As engines became smaller and more efficient, requiring less fuel, boat makers began to utilise them for a range of different tasks.

Boats can be neatly separated into three categories:

  1. Canoes & Gondolas (human powered vessels) – propelled by good old fashion elbow grease. The steersman uses a paddle to scoop the water or – in the case of a gondola – a long pole to push against the seabed or riverbed and propel the craft forward.
  2. Sailboats – use wind power. A sail (or airfoil) is used to catch the wind and push or pull the boat along.
  3. Motorboats – utilise the internal combustion engine powering a propeller or water pump to form a vortex in the water and push the boat forward.

We are going to be focusing on motorboats & jet skis, but if you want to know a bit more about wind or people-powered boats you can, here

Is Port left, or right?

Anyone who has been on a boat – whether it be on a tour, with family or with friends – has experienced confusion at the abrupt commands shouted at them by the captain. Being told to move to port, duck under the boom, or to head to the starboard bow because there is a pod of dolphins playing in the wake; it can all be a bit overwhelming and frustrating when you don’t know the lingo. Just to clear things up for us, we’ve compiled a handy table of nautical terms and boat parts.

Directional Terms: - Starboard – refers to the right side of the boat. - Port – refers to the left side of the boat. If you can’t remember the difference, just think that port has four letters and so does the word left. - Stern – the rear of the boat. - Bow – the front of the boat. - Starboard Bow – refers to the front right-hand side of the vessel. The same goes for the port bow etc. This allows the skipper or navigator to draw attention to specific areas surrounding the boat.

Boat features: - Hull – making up the bulk of the boat’s main structure, the hull is the first part of the boat to hit the waves and creates the internal space within the boat's structure keeping it buoyant. - Gunnel – the correct term for the sides of the boat, the structures that run from bow to stern affording structural integrity and keeping water out as waves hit the sides. - The deck is the part that you’re standing on. Most modern power boats will only have one or two decks each at different levels, but it is common for large military boats or fishing vessels to have multiple decks with specific names based on their location. - The keel – like the backbone of the boat and runs from the tip of the hull at the bow of the craft to the stern. Different boats have different shaped keels. The shape of the keel can affect its performance and lean angle, its top speed, and the kind of wake that it will create behind it. - The transom – the flat surface that forms the stern of the boat. Often used to house motors and carry other equipment. You will often board a boat via the transom. - The cabin – where you can get inside and stay out of the elements. Used for storage and sleeping quarters, most modern powerboats will have at least one enclosed cabin. The larger the vessel, however, the more people it can sleep, and the more facilities it can house.

What different kinds of powerboats are there?

Power boats themselves can be categorised based on the kind of engine they use. Jet skis are a great example of a modern form of powerboat that, due to the advances in engine technology, can be made small and lightweight enough to perform a variety of jobs larger craft couldn’t handle.

Paddle Steamers are often large vessels that are powered by a water wheel situated either towards the stern or to either side of the main cabin. The water wheel is spun by a steam powered engine, a series of blades on the wheel tug the boat forward. Although the technology has been largely replaced by internal combustion engines, steam engines are still used on tour boats around the world for their historical significance.

paddle steamer

Air Boats are commonly seen in the southern states of the United States where waterways are dense with vegetation and a propeller driven boat would struggle to get around. A large propeller sits at the stern of the craft and is driven by a combustion engine. The prop creates a column of fast moving air towards the stern pushing it forward similar to an aircraft propeller. Airboats typically have flat keels so as to allow them to float easily across swamp vegetation in shallow water.

Outboard motors are the most popular form of motorised propulsion for small boats. The word outboard refers to the fact that the engine is not housed within the body of the craft, but is connected to the transom of the boat and is easily detachable. This means the engine is simple to repair and maintain while still providing excellent power to weight ratios. Outboard motors drive a small prop which sends the boat forward and can be steered as the whole motor pivots on its housing left to right.

Inboard motors are exactly what their names suggest. Housed within the hull of the craft, inboard motors are often closely related to automobile engines as they are designed to spin a drive shaft which turns the propeller that is housed externally at the stern. Inboard motors are more difficult to maintain than outboard motors as they are harder to get to and cannot be easily removed. However, they often allow for greater capabilities in terms of horsepower and leave the stern clear, allowing more space for fishing and skiing gear.

Inboard/outboard motors or stern drive is a hybrid form of propulsion that combines elements from both inboard and outboard engines. The main bulk of the engine is housed within the hull, but the drive leg and prop are externally housed. Pros and cons of both engine types affect the inboard/outboard motor, as it is more easily maintained than an inboard, has higher power capabilities than an outboard, but is also prone to corrosion like an outboard as well.

Jet propulsion is also used by a range of boats, especially in lightweight personal watercraft (PWC), or jet skis. A jet engine is housed within the craft which powers a hydrojet system creating a screw-like coil of high-pressure water to propel the craft along. An intake at the front of the craft allows water to pass through the engine which is then sped up and fired out the stern. Jet boats are highly manoeuvrable, but can be hard to maintain and are at risk of electrical issues.

Jet skis

Modern lightweight personal watercraft grew to mainstream popularity throughout the 1980’s and 90’s as a recreational activity. Originally designed to carry only one person, they have since evolved to carry up to two people.

jet skis

Personal watercraft are designed to be driven either standing up or while seated. Seated jet skis are well suited to a range of activities and roles such as surf n’ rescue and leisure boating. Stand-up jet skis are predominately used for racing and performing tricks and aerial manoeuvres.

Jet skis have opened up a world of possibility for sports such as surfing. Whereas big deep ocean waves were not approachable by paddling alone, extreme surfers now use jet skis to tow up to speed in order to catch them.

Where can I go boating?

Boats are designed for the body of water upon which they are going to be used. There is a boat out there for every activity and every job at hand. However, there are restrictions on where and how you use them.

In order to pilot a boat, you first need to obtain a boating license, the same as you would to drive a car. Although oceans and lakes have significantly less traffic than roads, it is still essential that you know the rules before heading out. For example, it is common practice to restrict boat speeds within a certain distance from the shore. This helps reduce the effect a boats wake has on swimmers and on boats that are moored at the docks.

Safety out on the water

Boating licenses are usually quick and relatively easy to obtain. In addition to obtaining your license, however, it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about being safe at sea, and the correct protocols to use if you happen to get into trouble.

Before heading out it is essential that you follow correct radio procedures, making sure the local coastguard has a record of your departure and expected return date and time. This ensures that if you go missing, they know roughly where to start searching. Every boat should have an emergency kit on board containing flares, first aid, and every passenger should wear a life jacket – especially the little ones.

Boating rules still apply to PWC’s and Jet skis. Jet skis are incredibly powerful and it is vital that you learn the rules regarding their use and how to drive safely. Always wear a lifejacket, check the weather forecast regularly before heading out and keep your radio on. The conditions can change quickly at sea or even on a lake so it’s important you are keeping your eyes on the horizon and the rising tide.

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