By Bruce Claflin, Scuttlebutt Magazine

So all of us here in the upper Midwest have been extremely patient and now, it’s finally spring. Time to go boating! Maybe for some of us it IS time to go boating, but for many it is time to do the preparation that affords us a safest and happiest boating experience. We all know that this pastime we love is often fraught with calamity both small and large. Hopefully the reminders in this article will help you avoid those early season issues that turn our joy into frustration or a weekend on dry land. I’ve always felt that it was a good idea to visit the boat during the off season, like checking in on an old friend over the winter. Go to where the boat is stored and give it a visual. This will give you an opportunity to spot potential problems early, rather than a day or two prior to your first outing. Either way, let’s look at some of the things you need to be checking before your first outing. This is not an exhaustive list, but one that is shaped by the experiences of what is most likely to be problematic in the early season.

Covering and Canvas

Check your covering for those pressure and stretch points where you see wear and determine whether or not repairs are, or soon will be required. Our weather is typically most volatile early in the season and you don’t want to be caught without protection. Check the isinglass as well for clouding, or other issues that could potentially affect your visibility on stormy waters.

Trailering

One of the most common mistakes is made when a stored boat is pulled out and trailered to the water after only inspecting the trailer tires for inflation. Tire inflation is critically important but let’s do it right. Let’s focus on those parts of the trailer that go in and out of the water with the trailer. Lighting harnesses, and trailer hubs are subject to this submersion and also not immune to potential changes while in storage. Do a thorough inspection of the grease fittings on the hubs. Remove the caps, and make an attempt to manipulate the fittings back and forth. If you have quite a bit of movement-–you probably need more grease. Have a friend or family member stand behind the trailer while you activate taillights, blinkers, and brake lights.
It’ll make you feel better knowing. Last but not least, remember that your trailer did not come with a lug wrench or a jack and plan accordingly. Make sure if you are hauling your boat more than just a short distance that you have what you need to handle a trailer tire emergency. Check hitch coupler, ball size, and safety chains of course.

Outside Your Boat

Each spring (and fall I guess) we have the opportunity to view our boats and visually inspect those parts of the vessel that are normally submerged and therefore ‘invisible’ to us. Take advantage of this time of year to check shafts, propellers, and the boats hull are all areas that should be given a visual at the very least. Give the hull a good cleaning with an approved hull cleaner that is neither harsh nor abrasive. Check for blisters and cracks while cleaning as they should be visible. Check the propeller for pitting, cracks, and dings. Is the prop secure, or do you need to have bearings inspected? A loose prop can create enough vibration to damage a shaft. It matters. Oh and don’t forget the drain plug–if you forget it, you can still catch it in time before the boat sinks–but it might be several years before your friends or your significant other allow you to forget that it happened to you. I know.

Everything Else

Lastly, let’s take a look at those items internal that can become problematic if ignored. If you’re like most boaters you love your boat and you know your boat, but you may not be qualified to troubleshoot a problem or fix it should you find one. Here’s a checklist for some items that will at least make you better at spotting a problem before it wrecks a weekend.

  • Check the battery terminals for signs of corrosion. Test it to make sure it can hold a charge.
  • Check gauges and all electronics for proper functionality. While you’re thinking about, throw some spare fuses onboard.
  • Bilge Pump, bilge pump, bilge pump. Make sure!
  • Navigational lights. Check all external lights and make sure they are in proper working order. Carry auxillary lights (spot lights, etc) in the case of failure.
  • Check the hoses. Hoses that are soft or brittle should be thoroughly inspected and replaced if necessary. Check all clamps and fittings to make sure they are secure.
  • Check all belts for wear and tear. Make sure they are tight, not cracked, brittle, or worn. Belt material can be degraded by the cold temperatures that come with our harsh winter. Check around pulleys for that black ‘dust’ that is indicative of wear and replace if necessary. Also keep in mind that fuel containing high levels (over 10%) of ethanol can adversely affect the conditions and longevity of belts and hoses.
  • Fluid levels should all be checked. If oil levels, and fluids like power steering, coolant, and power trim reservoirs were not maintained at winterization, then by all means you should be doing it now.
  • Make sure that your exhaust system is working properly and all ventilation systems are operating correctly to keep the boat safe. While you’re at it–check the detectors for smoke, and carbon monoxide for proper functionality. Fire extinguishers should be charged and fresh-stored in a location that is accessible at all times.

Other Safety Stuff

Don’t forget this. This really matters–life jackets, enough for all onboard always. Make sure they are in proper shape and have the ability to perform their function.

Signaling devices, both visual and auditory should be a very real consideration, depending on the size of the water on which you choose to boat. Flares within expration? Hand held spotlight on board with fresh batteries–it’s important.

Freshen up that First Aid Kit. I bear the scar of a gash that occurred about 20 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. The fish were biting and no one wanted to head in. We improvised, and I survived, but it would have been a lot easier (and better cosmetically) if we had been carrying a complete and fresh first aid kit.

Take the time to do this little walk through of your vessel before your first outing. Ask around too as the local Coast Guard Auxiliaries hold annual open ‘inspections’ throughout the spring to help educate us and keep our boating experiences carefree and safe.

Almost forgot!!!! Check with your insurance pro. Everything good?

The family at Scuttlebutt Magazine wishes you a great–and trouble free–boating season. Get out there and enjoy it!