Habit, Meet Routine

Do you despise those little stickers in the upper corner of your car’s windshield, reminding you of the next service date? They’re put there not only to get repeat business but also to have you routinely peruse it for scheduling, because you’re never going to get in the habit of checking fluids under the hood.

Boating is a wonderful way to enjoy independence, sports, solitude or togetherness. However, when things go wrong, they go wrong 150 percent. Sea Tow or BoatUS will be there as quickly as they can, but you’re always stuck in inclement weather or on a sinking boat, not waiting in a warm car for AAA. So here’s where I espouse making a habit of routine. Establish a habit that will help you achieve a routine. Mine starts a bit differently. Once a month, I make sure our boat is still on a neighbor’s boat lift. If I don’t have time to use it, I want to be certain nobody else does, either!
Make sure — if your boat is on a lift — that the drain plug is installed.
Look in the bilge. Dry? Great! Damp? To be expected. Water sloshing? Uh-oh. Find the source, whether it’s excessive rain, a transom boot seal or a shaft seal. Going out with a situation like that is a guaranteed disaster.

Smell the bilge. Gas odor? Very carefully extricate yourself from the boat and call the experts. If all’s OK in the bilge, turn on the battery switch. Turn on the blower for the established length of time. Vent the bilge. Turn on the ignition. Note the voltmeter reading. Under 10v, you’ll have trouble starting the engine, and you’ll burn the starter brushes and armature. Start the engine with the factory’s procedure. Listen for engine warning alarms. Watch your gauges. Check your safety equipment. Flares should be up to date and the date legible. PFDs should be weight-appropriate for the passengers, not encased in the sales plastic, and not torn or tattered. Make certain your fire extinguisher is suited for gas and electrical fires. If it’s not, it could make a bad situation worse. And by the way, where is the extinguisher mounted? It looks neat by the engine compartment, but can you reach it if there’s a fire? Consider mounting it by the skipper’s seat for quick access. Mount one near the co-captain, too.

As a tech, I try to keep my boat in good mechanical shape, but there are things I can’t control, just like you. When we go boating (maybe this year, if we’re lucky), MaryLou asks, “What tools are you bringing?” Obviously, anyone with $5,000 worth of tools in the back of his truck will come prepared for any disaster. “What will break?” “I don’t know.” “Me either. Here’s a multitip screwdriver, electrical tape, and vise grips. Let’s go.” Depending on your type of boat, and condition, your toolkit may be as simple as a current tow boat number programmed into your VHF and iPhone, or so elaborate the Snap-On dealer would lust after it. No matter whether your boat is outboard powered, I/O or inboard, think about this: Going boating is great; coming back is magnificent. Make your pre-boating checks a routine habit.

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