A few extra steps before you shove off will help ensure a trouble-free summer of cruising.
It’s that time of the year. Boats are shaken loose from the winter doldrums. Snowbirds have returned home. And plans for a summer of cruising are being finalized on kitchen tables up and down the coast. One guarantee for a more enjoyable season is to see that your boat is properly prepared.
Ensure all required safety equipment is on board and check the expiration dates on all flares. Take out all of your PFDs and inspect them. Ensure you have one that is properly sized for each crewmember. Affix personal strobes and whistles to each vest as an added element of safety. It doesn’t matter if you’re only going a few miles offshore: Your boat should be equipped with an EPIPRB. Life rafts are also a must. If your boat is equipped with a raft, make sure the inspection is current. In addition, put together a ditch bag that includes, at a minimum, a first-aid kit, a handheld GPS (with extra batteries), VHF, water, some basic food and tools. Make sure it’s accessible and not buried at the bottom of the lazarette.
Maintaining your batteries should be part of your routine schedule, but paying extra attention before casting off is prudent. Make sure you remove the battery terminals and clean them as needed. Afterward, coat the terminals with petroleum jelly. Be sure to clean the batteries and wipe down any condensation that may have accumulated on top. Excess moisture can actually create a path to ground that will start to discharge your batteries. Check the electrolyte levels in any flood-type batteries and top them off with distilled water if necessary.
Check your running lights and make sure you have the necessary bulbs for all your lights, including the anchor light. Take the time to grease the connections. Ensure you have a powerful searchlight — the more candlepower the better. It’s also a good idea to have enough flashlights for everyone on board.
One of the most common areas of concern on any boat is clean fuel. Depending on the sea state, it’s possible that debris can be stirred up from the bottom of the tanks. If you’re buying a previously owned boat and don’t know the history of the fuel or the state of the fuel tanks, I suggest having them professionally cleaned. If your tanks haven’t been cleaned in 10 years, have it done. Also, if your boat has been sitting unused with half-empty tanks, chances are moisture has formed. The cooling and warming of the tanks will condense this moisture into water. Therefore, make sure you change your fuel filters (primary and secondary) before departing, even if you’ve been religious about adding the proper additive. Carry a sufficient number of spares as well.
Have your engine(s) thoroughly serviced before your departure. In addition, ensure belts are fresh and not worn, hoses show no sign of chafe or failure, and the impeller is in good shape. The impeller is a must-have spare. If the impeller blades wear out or break off, an obstruction within the coolant system could result. Carry an assortment of hoses and spares. Some engine manufacturers offer a prepackaged spare parts kit.
Take the time to completely inspect your hydraulic steering system. Look for any leaks and check for any slop in the system. Above all, know how to bleed the system.
Maintain the Bilge
Make sure your bilge is clean and dry. Any debris can clog pumps when you need them the most. Also, make sure all through-hull fittings can be opened and closed with ease.