Charting a Smooth Course

Professional advice and know-how makes all the difference for stress-free boating on Cape and Islands waters.

As summer kicks into high gear, the signs of anticipation of another season in the treasured waters off the Cape and Islands are everywhere. Shrink-wrap comes off, trailers are hitched, and harbors begin to fill with vessels of all stripes. None of this is magic, of course, and ensuring a smooth, safe summer on the water requires the expertise of someone like John Bernier, President of North Atlantic Marine Services in Wareham and Plymouth and a former member of the Cape Cod Marine Trades Association’s Board of Directors.

For three years Bernier and his staff of highly trained specialists at North Atlanic Marine Services have been accommodating southeastern New England’s boating community. The team is able to meet a wide spectrum of repair and maintenance needs that have enabled boaters to enjoy the water during the short, but cherished season.

Charting a Smooth Course

At the beginning of each boating season, which usually begins in May on the Cape and Islands, Bernier recommends pre-season servicing, including a full check of all the systems in your boat. Electrical and engine components, batteries, fuel systems, filler and vent systems should undergo inspection—and, if necessary, repair—before the boat hits the water.

Safety is always first on Bernier’s mind and he highly recommends the Massachusetts Safe Boating Course for everyone from new skippers to time-tested veterans in need of a refresher. “This is a very good course for everyone on the water. It provides a lot of helpful information—not only for the rules on the water, but also on how to operate your boat or jet ski,” says Bernier. Classes are offered throughout the state for adults and youths age 12 and older, and family participation is encouraged.

In recent decades, technological and mechanical improvements have made boats easier to navigate through the waters of Cape Cod and the Islands. Many boats are faster and use less fuel, computerized engines make an array of system data available to the operator, and an alphabet soup of directional equipment helps keep boaters safe on the water—welcome additions considering some of the potentially hazardous areas that lie off our shores. “Cutting through Woods Hole can be challenging for even the most experienced boater, not to mention how Buzzards Bay kicks up with the southeast wind,” says Bernier. But even with all these advancements, he doesn’t recommend boaters rely on equipment over real-world experience.

Seasoned boaters and industry professionals who are looking to further their nautical know-how are encouraged to take a training course at the Marine Education Complex, located at North Atlantic Maine Services’s Wareham location. “The industry is constantly changing, and having this type training available locally is a great way to keep up,” says Bernier. Subjects like fiberglass repair, engine maintenance, and boating safety are covered during these free training courses and workshops.

It’s no secret that finding a mooring or slips at a marina on Cape Cod or the Islands can be a tough task, sometimes requiring boaters to spend years on a waiting list before snagging one for themselves. But for those who don’t have that kind of time or are only visiting, there are still ways to get your boat in the water. The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Fishing and Boating maintains a listing of ramps available to boaters throughout the state and around the Cape and Islands: Barnstable Harbor, Sesuit Harbor in Dennis, Rock Harbor in Orleans, Katama Bay in Edgartown, and Madaket Harbor in Nantucket—all of which also offer parking. (For a full listing, visit

While it might be tempting to grab the first open slip that becomes available, boaters should think before they make a commitment. For instance, if straightforward trips to Martha’s Vineyard or Cuttyhunk are on the summer itinerary, it might mean waiting for a slip in Woods Hole instead of Megansett Harbor in North Falmouth.

A big draw for joining a yacht club or marina in the first place is the social life. If you look forward to having a drink with fellow seafarers after a day on the water or having a venue for a Fourth of July party, then it’s worth factoring a location’s social scene into your selection. “Ask fellow boaters at the docks on the weekend and they are often very willing to help you decide,” suggests Bernier.

Bernier recommends boaters understand everything from how to read a tide chart to simple mechanics, but use sources other than the Internet to learn. “The Internet has so much information available but it is always important to confirm this info with a fellow boater with experience,” he says. “It is also advisable to take a boating class from a local group or instructor.” Organizations including the Power Squadrons and Massachusetts Environmental Police have Bernier’s seal of approval.

Before hitting the water, it is crucial to do research about your destination. Nobody wants to spend the day sailing to Nantucket to find that every harbor is full—an all-too-frequent reality in the summer months. “Check the weather often and cancel your trip if it looks like bad weather is looming. Always be prepared to stay longer as the weather can change instantly,” advises Bernier. A first aid kit and lifejackets should always be on board in case things go bad while out at sea.

The Cape and Islands have always been havens for boaters, full of ports and towns that provide the perfect backdrop to a day trip. “Finding a spot is as easy as calling the local harbormaster and just asking where you can tie up,” says Bernier. And with the proper safety precautions, adequate maintenance, a little planning, and a lot of assistance from some of the country’s top marine trade professionals, every boater can enjoy a beautiful summer on the water.

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