Growing up on the ocean at the helm of numerous boats all the way back to when my father would help me see over the bow could not have fully prepared me for the task of guiding clients on the waters off Montauk Point during high season.
However, countless days on the water there did.
Over the years, boating fatalities in those waters are storied and numerous, so a respect for Mother Nature and her waters have to be top priority.
Here are fiver tips to get you by if you happen to find yourself at the tiller of any watercraft in a high-traffic area like Montauk:
When in doubt, stand down
Many people will try to outrace, outrun or outmaneuver other boats for various reasons, mostly because they are afraid they will miss the fish.
Many Coast Guard rules state that mariners in close proximity to a distressed vessel must help. This involves risking their lives for yours. Make sure when you need help it's not because of something you did that was less than responsible.
Know the rules of the road
It is your responsibility to know the rules of navigation when in charge of any vessel. This includes the minimum basics of who has the right of way in crossing situations, proper VHF radio handling, reading charts and navigating around buoys.
Boating courses and books like "Chapman Piloting: Seamanship & Boat Handling" are, in my opinion, required training for areas as treacherous as Montauk and many other waters of the Northeast.
It is very easy to forget that, after all, it is just fishing. This is especially magnified when there are fish boiling and boats running and gunning to get to them first.
Taking the time to assess a fishing situation and how to approach it oftentimes will end with much greater success and engender some goodwill with other fisherman (a significant commodity to have out here).
Boating in close quarters is an art and a dance that can only be mastered by mindfulness and absence of ego. Not to mention, Coast Guard laws state that you are responsible for the wake that your vessel creates. If someone is hurt or his or her boat is damaged and your wake was the cause, you will be liable.
Drift through the fish
Try to see how the current, wind and fish are interacting so you can get above the fish and drift into them. This avoids both putting them down and possibly running into another boat.
Never motor through them, and if you have one hooked and it is very crowded, attempt to get out of the fray and let someone else have a chance. "School hogs" are truly the lowest form of the human species.
Learn the water
If you are unfamiliar with the bottom structure, read your charts and/or use your GPS maps to learn where there might be obstructions. Often the fish will be tight to the shoreline as the rocks and points trap the bait and attract the game fish.
Please remember a few things when in the thick of it: the shallower the water the spookier the fish; shore-bound anglers have drastically reduced maneuverability and limited fishing areas; and big swells can and will come out of nowhere.
Last year alone resulted in 3 boats on the rocks, endangering both the people who crashed and the people that came to their rescue.
Just like being in charge of any other motor vehicle, a level head, proper training and time behind the wheel are always the keys to a successful trip. Add to that the power of the open ocean and extra vigilance becomes paramount. And ultimately the rewards can indeed by supreme.