Boat fishing is something of a mystery to many anglers. Most would agree that the ability to get afloat can pay dividends and yet very few anglers actually take the plunge and give it a go. Those that do fall mainly into two categories; the experienced boater who's learned the art of boat fishing the hard way and the casual boat fisherman who perhaps just goes afloat once a year while on holiday

Many casual boaters find the experience less than rewarding and in a lot of cases, it's enough to put them off boats for life. Make no mistake, it's a lot easier to get it wrong than to get it right in boat fishing and the potential is there to get it wrong with the most disastrous of consequences

During this series I hope to give an insight into fishing from a boat, how to choose wisely, where to use your craft, how to be safe and how to use your boat to its best advantage. I should stress at this point that my own interest is in coarse fishing on lakes and rivers and all that I write here is done so with this in mind. There are obviously much greater safety implications involved for those who wish to venture out on the sea in a small boat and many of the principles I adopt would not be appropriate out at sea

The Golden Rule Safety is paramount in boat fishing and the safety thread will continue through these articles. This is exactly how it should be in boating, for safety is not a bolt-on afterthought but rather something that should be considered in the making of every decision. So in choosing your boat, think about what will be the safest option. Is the boat going to be used on a big water or a small one? On a river or a lake? Are there rocky outcrops or dense weed? Above all, how many people do you expect to be in your boat at any one time. Two people in a twelve foot boat is a squeeze and three would be quite dangerous so think about this when you make your choice

Making the right choice Before going out and spending your hard earned dosh, it really is important to decide what you are going to use your boat for. Looking around your local waters, you will probably find that access is very restricted and that in many cases, boating is not allowed. This is in stark contrast to many other countries such as the USA or Spain, a country where I've done a fair bit of boat fishing. So, the first important point to consider is whether you can actually launch at all! Assuming you can put a boat out, what kind of restrictions are going to be imposed upon you. The majority of waters I fish have speed limits ranging from as low as 5mph. Other restrictions may involve a limit on the engine capacity of any outboard you may wish to use or even ban the use of outboards altogether. This may be no bad thing at times - contributing to a quieter and cleaner environment for us all, though I am often at a loss to understand why some places ban the use of electric outboards which are both silent and pollution-free

Horsepower for courses Many first-time boaters will be happy to settle for what they can get in terms of a bargain boat. This is fine as long as the boat is suitable for the intended purpose but can be a burden if the boat is not suitable. Buying a cathedral hulled speed machine with a 50hp motor might be pretty macho but it's of little use if the local river has a 6 knot speed limit. The big engine would work out expensive to run and maintain, it would be cumbersome to store and to launch and would be a potential target for thieves - a big worry when you own a boat. Likewise a ten foot, flat bottomed dinghy would not be suitable for a big glacial lake like Loch Lomond or Windermere where a big wave might flip it over

On the whole, while fast boats are nice to have, especially when fishing a big water with no restrictions, they are really not necessary for most situations and can be a liability. The beginner to boat fishing should look more towards a boat of 12 to 14 feet with an engine which will push it at around 5 or 6 mph. A 4hp engine will suit a 12 foot boat quite nicely while an 8hp engine will do just fine for a 14 footer. I have two boats at the moment, a ten foot plastic boat and a 14 foot displacement hulled fibreglass job named "Pioneer". My ten footer is ideal for use in places where launching is a problem. It is light enough to get on the car rooftop, weighing just 90lbs and can be launched even down a sheer drop by lowering it with a rope. It's called a sniper 10, the second one I've had and I wouldn't be without it. I find that a 4hp engine or my 55lb thrust electric push it along at a nice speed. The manufacturers recommendation is for an engine size no greater than 6hp on this little boat. Fitting a larger engine would be of little use, causing the boat to sit up in the water rather than travel faster and wasting much fuel at the same time

This is a principle that many people fail to grasp, the engine size must be suited to the size and style of the boat. I once witnessed a very experienced angler who had fitted an engine far too large for the boat he was using. The result was that he got nowhere fast, the boat sitting up like a performing poodle in the water and after a relatively short space of time the boat's transom was badly damaged

The size of the engine will impact too on your flexibility. A 4hp engine with an integral fuel tank is a handy size to carry around and can be fitted to your boat single-handedly in seconds. Larger engines than this tend to have remote fuel tanks which take up room in the boat and make them a little more difficult to transport. Engines of greater than 8hp are pretty heavy and large engines cannot easily (safely) be fitted by an individual. That's ok if you're intending to leave your engine fastened to the boat all the time but that makes them a target for thieves. Moreover, if you are likely to use hire boats from time to time you will want something you can transport easily

Flexibility is the key My little sniper is remarkably stable and I've landed some pretty big fish in it - fish of over a hundred pounds! It has its limitations however. Being so light, it tends to sit on the water rather than in it. This makes it very susceptible to being blown about by the wind and I would not consider using it in windy weather - particularly on a big water. It is also rather too small for two, especially in the winter when all the extra clothing, waterproofs, flasks and food seem to take up more space than they do on the bank. Moreover, being an open boat with no shelter makes it pretty uncomfortable when that east wind blows

Given the choice, I would rather go out in my larger, 14 footer. This was a boat I bought from a friend and is typical of the type of second-hand boat one might find in "Loot" or the second-hand pages of the local newspaper. It is a very wide-bottomed boat which makes it rather slow but comfortable to fish from and the small cuddy is a blessing in bad weather. The engine I use with this boat is a 9.9hp four stroke with electric start and a trickle charger which keeps the battery topped up. Four stroke engines are much cleaner and quieter than two strokes, making them the ideal choice for anglers. The electric start in particular is a real boon and something I would definitely recommend. This engine will push my boat along at about 8mph - quite enough for most waters and it will run very smoothly at low speeds which gives a high degree of control for either trolling or coming in to moor

This boat is somewhat more difficult to launch however and needs a proper slipway to do so. It is also fairly heavy and cannot be manoeuvred easily without the use of the car. This is a significant disadvantage at some venues so you should really consider what launching facilities you have available to you before buying your boat. On one of the lakes I fish, the slipway doesn't open to vehicles until 9am. This is hopeless for fishing, you really want to be out for dawn, and I don't use my larger boat there. A friend has a smaller boat which he can manoeuvre by hand however and he leaves this boat in the compound adjacent to the slipway. It's an easy matter for him to run it down and into the water before loading it up for the day and it is light enough for him to pull it out by hand too so he can stay out after the slipway closes

My 14ft boat was really very inexpensive to buy, costing only 250 but it came on a rather tatty trailer. I got quite a shock when I came to replace the trailer - they cost a fortune! A new galvanised trailer for my boat would have set me back 800 and instead I decided to set to and make one. This was not as arduous as you might think and with the help of a couple of friends and a little over 200's worth of parts I now have a trailer which is as sturdy and reliable as any you could buy from a dealer

What material? Material of construction is something which needs to be considered. Fibreglass boats like the one mentioned above or the excellent Orkney range are low maintenance and fairly easily repaired. They are quite susceptible to damage however and this should be taken into account if they are to be used on waters where rocks are a problem. Aluminium boats like the Sea Nymph are the favourite for many anglers. They are quite light and very tough but quite expensive to buy and they never seem to find their way onto the second-hand market. Plastic is another material worthy of consideration. My little ten foot "Sniper" is plastic and has lasted me for many years, while a Swedish company called Pioner has brought out an superb range of plastic boats which seem almost indestructible - these boats are becoming a favourite amongst those who fish the rocky glacial lakes. Wooden boats tend to be heavy which makes them difficult to launch and they are rather too high-maintenance for my liking

Next time I want to talk about using your boat, how to anchor properly and what kinds of equipment should you buy and fit