When boaters take their boat on the water, it’s important that they’re not preoccupied or distracted. One excellent way to make sure a boater is focused on the right things is to make sure the boat is prepared and inspected properly before leaving the dock. That way, the skipper can pay attention, keep a proper watch, monitor the way the boat is running, and hopefully avoid trouble and have confidence that the boat is ready for the day at hand.
By creating a definitive checklist, vital inspections and tests will not be left out. If it’s good enough for a professional airline pilot, it’s good enough for any boater. Knowing everything is maintained, visually inspected, and ready for proper operation means that equipment failures will be the exception rather than the rule.
Bilge Drain Plugs. Whether your boat has a garboard drain with a screw plug, a snap in drain plug or T-handle drain plug, making sure it is tightly secured before launching can mean the difference between a fun day on the water or a disastrous one.
Battery charge and health is another important consideration. Many boaters who use their boats only sporadically often find a dead battery can ruin the day before it even begins. Checking the charge, and even having a peek at the fluid level is a good idea. If the battery has lost its charge, the boater may need to embark on a trouble-shooting mission to find out if a switch was left on or there’s some other draw on the current. Check to make sure the wire connections are snug and watch for corrosion on the metal parts. Also, beware of metal tools here: When tightening the positive lead don’t let the other end of the wrench touch the ground or sparking could occur.
Bilge Pump Test. On the trailer or dockside, hose a small amount of water into the bilge (enough to raise the float switch to engage the bilge pump). Turn on the bilge pump switch until the bilge is drained. Make sure no one is standing in the path of the water streaming from the bilge drain thru-hull fitting.
Inboard and sterndrive boats employ engines that are similar to automobile engines, whether diesel or gas. For all engines, it’s best to follow owner’s manual instructions on checking the oil. The oil condition and quantity is accessed through a dipstick. Keep an eye on this oil level, as a sudden drop in oil level from one day to the next can indicate a failing seal somewhere on the engine or a problem with the engine operation that is causing it to burn oil excessively.
4-stroke outboard engines are also checked with a dipstick. The outboard cowling is removed and the dipstick is extricated, wiped clean and reinserted completely then withdrawn again to check the oil level and condition.
Today’s 2-stroke outboard engines have a reservoir of oil that is injected into the engine to keep it lubricated. The owner’s manual for the outboard will indicate the number of engine hours the oil in the reservoir should handle.
Whether your boat has a diesel or gas inboard, or a four-stroke or a two-stroke outboard, they all require special oil that may vary by season. Read your owner’s manual for the recommended oil type and quality. Never skimp on a boat’s motor oil, it is the lifeblood of the most expensive single component on your boat, the engine. Also using the incorrect oil could void any warranty coverage.
Before leaving the dock, it is critical to test that the steering system of the boat is working. Beyond that, smart boaters will pay attention to the feel of the wheel, and notice small changes over time that may reveal required maintenance or repair to the system. It should go without saying, but if something feels off, don’t take the boat out.
Fuel Level. Calculate the amount of fuel you will need to complete the planned mission for the day. While some consider it a good plan to have one third of the boat’s fuel capacity to get where you are going, one third to return and another third for reserves, topping up the tank is never a bad idea.
Like most things in life, using common sense is the best way to stay safe on the water. Trusting one’s instincts is part of becoming an experienced boater – if something seems like it isn’t right, investigate.