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There are several factors that go into how to properly handle your boat. Some, such as weather and water conditions , are beyond your control. Familiarize yourself with factors you can control, and you’ll be well on your way to a more enjoyable boating adventure.

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On a small boat with an outboard motor , the motor's handle is used to steer the boat. Since the engine is mounted on the rear of the boat, it pushes the stern around, making the bow go in the opposite direction. To turn to starboard (right), move the handle to the left. To turn to port (left), move the handle to the right. You maneuver larger boats with a steering wheel, much like driving a car.


The speed of a boat depends on both the size of the motor and the boat. The speed of the motor is controlled by a throttle in much the same way a gas pedal works on a car.


The smallest outboard motors have no gearshift. The boat moves as soon as the engine is started. Larger motors have a gearshift lever. There are three positions—forward, neutral and reverse. Place the lever into neutral to start the engine, then, when it's running, put the lever in forward or reverse gear to move forward or backward.

Placing the shift lever in neutral will not stop the boat. Since a boat does not have brakes, you must learn to judge your speed and maneuver carefully, using the forward and reverse controls to avoid hitting docks and other boats or objects.

How Planing Hulls Operate

(See diagram above)

Displacement Mode: A planing hull, when operated at very slow speeds, will cut through the water like a displacement hull.

Plowing Mode: As speed increases, a planing hull will have a raised bow, reducing the operator's vision and throwing a very large wake. Avoid maintaining a speed that puts your boat in plowing mode.

Planing Mode: Your boat is in planing mode when enough power is applied so that the hull glides on top of the water. Different boats reach planing mode at different speeds.

For more information on specific hull types, see our Types of Hulls page.


Getting out on the water is one thing. Getting back to the dock so you can show off your prize catch is another. Handling your boat also involves making sure your it is docked safely. Learn the ropes with this video.

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