Knowing Your Boat - 11/16/2018

Tracker Safety Series


Captain’s Report


Chapter 6 – Know Your Boat’s Systems


Overview

Boats have systems that add to the comfort and safety of her crew. As a boater, it’s the captain’s responsibility to make sure those systems are kept in good working order.

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Running safely means reducing speed in accordance with reduced visibility due to darkness.

Running and Anchor Lights

Not all boating takes place during daylight hours, and so boats are equipped with running and anchor lights. Unlike the headlights on a car, which allow the driver to see obstacles better in darkness, the lights on a boat are designed to let the crews of other boats see her. Boaters need to understand why the lights on boats are colored and positioned the way they are, so they can know what they are seeing on the water after dark. Boats should also carry a bright spotlight or flashlight as well, to serve as a “headlight” for finding channel markers and spotting obstacles in low-light conditions.

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Generally, boats come equipped with the required running lights to operate between sundown and sunrise.

Running Lights

Boats have three lights they must display at a minimum in dark conditions. A bow light or lights consist of a red light on the port side (that’s the left side of the boat as you face forward) and a green light to the starboard side. These lights are visible from directly forward to 22.5-degrees abaft the beam on their respective sides. More simply, a boat’s red light can be seen from straight ahead to 112.5-degrees back on the port side, and the green light can be seen in the same arc on the starboard side. Boaters who understand the Rules of the Road know that they have the right of way when they see the green light of a boat on an intersecting course, and the red light tells them they must give way to the other boat. The white light, which is usually at the stern or atop the hardtop, must be visible from 360-degrees around the boat.

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At the bow, you’ll find a red/green combination light or sometimes separate colored lights. Red on the port or left side of the boat as you face forward. Green on the starboard or right side.
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At the stern is a white light. All three of these lights must be turned on any time you are under way between dusk and dawn, so that other boaters can see you and be aware of your course.
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Many boats have permanently mounted running lights.
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Other boats have plug-in running lights mounted on metal stanchions. Open the receptacle cover.
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Align the screw head on the tube with the slot in the light base and push the tube until the light seats itself onto the connections.
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Now secure the tube with the locking connector by turning it clockwise and down.
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Check the lights to make sure they operate. Push the running light switch to the navigation position, which will turn on both bow and stern lights as well as the instrument lights on the console.

What do I do if my boat lights do not come on? If lights are not working, do not operate the boat between sundown and sunrise until they are repaired. If boating in darkness is a possibility, test the lights before setting out.

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If you stop to fish or rest after dark, turn the running lights switch to the anchor position. This turns off the bow lights but leaves the stern light on so that other boaters can see you.

Navigation Lights Indicate the Direction Vessels are Traveling. The color combination of lights you see on another boat at night indicates the direction they’re traveling relative to your position or course.

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If you only see a white light, the boat is either going away from you or is at anchor.
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If you see a white and green light, the boat is passing from left to right.
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If you see white and red, the boat is passing from right to left.
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If you see both red and green, the boat is coming towards you.

Underway After Dark. Operating after dark is far more risky than running during daylight. Go slow. Keep a sharp watch and have the entire crew wear PFDs at all times if you must run at night.

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Make sure you have a powerful flashlight or spotlight to spot channel markers, and obstacles such as floating debris, buoys and mooring balls, and docks.

Bilge Pumps

Bilge pumps are placed at the lowest points inside the boat where any water that comes aboard from rain, waves, condensation, leaks or other sources will collect. Some boats are equipped with an automatic bilge system that detects water when it reaches a certain level and turns on to pump it out. Ask your dealer if your boat is so equipped, or if one can be added as an option.

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Bilge pumps remove water from inside the bottom of the boat and discharge overboard.
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Many smaller boats have an electric bilge pump activated by a bilge pump switch.
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In this demonstration, an automatic bilge system uses a pump, indicated by the red arrow above that is turned on by a float switch, shown by the yellow arrow. When the switch rises, it activates the pump whenever water rises above a preset level. The water is discharged overboard, shown by the green arrow.
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The float switch drops with the water level, turning off the bilge pump when enough of the water has been removed.

Float Switch. If a float switch becomes inoperative, or the boat is not equipped with one, the boater must activate the bilge pump with a switch on the helm panel. Only allow the pump to run until the water is gone. If the pump runs dry, it’s likely to burn out and will require a replacement.

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It’s common for a few inches of water to be found in the bilge. This is normal on all boats and not cause for concern.
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Large amounts of water in the bilge on the other hand, may indicate a serious leak or other problem.
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If you discover more than a few gallons of water in the bilge, turn on the bilge pump to remove it and head for shore to find out where the water is coming from.

Inspect the Bilge Pump and Float Switch. Check the bilge pump and float switch operation regularly, especially when leaving the boat in the water for extended periods. The float switch is wired directly to the battery. It will turn on even if the main battery switch is turned off. But if left too long, the bilge pump will run the battery down, and that can get ugly, as the boat will eventually fill with water.

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An automatic bilge pump requires little attention from the operator: The pump screen and the area around the float switch must be inspected regularly and cleaned occasionally to prevent debris from blocking their operation.
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Debris can become lodged under the float switch causing the bilge pump to run constantly.

Check on the Boat

Remember that the automatic bilge pump is not foolproof. A dead battery, a broken wire, or a clogged float switch can render the automatic pump inoperative. It’s a nice system to have but does not relieve you of the responsibility to keep the boat afloat. Leaving a boat in the water unattended for extended periods of time is asking for trouble.

Trolling Motor

Many boats come equipped with a bow-mounted trolling motor. This system has its own operator’s manual, and a boater should read and understand it before operating the unit.

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A bow-mounted trolling motor, shown by the yellow arrow, can make fishing adventures more productive.
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Trolling motor propellers can be dangerous.
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Since most trolling motors are operated by either a connected foot switch, indicated by the yellow arrow, or a wireless remote, they can be turned on accidentally.
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It’s a good idea to keep the unit switched off or unplugged when not in use.
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The trolling motor is usually powered by its own deep cycle battery, or sometimes two or even three.

Trolling Motor Batteries. Isolating the trolling motor batteries protects the boat’s main batteries – the starting battery for the engine – from being inadvertently discharged, which would leave the boat stranded. But because trolling motor batteries are isolated from the main-engine system and are not automatically recharged by the engines’ electrical system, you’ll need to recharge the trolling motor batteries at the end of the day, using a portable charger, or a built-in onboard charger.

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An onboard system is the simplest to use. Simply plug it into an outlet. Check with your dealer or service center to acquire the system if you don’t already have it installed.

Using a Portable Battery Charger

Open the compartment to allow venting during charging, and follow the instructions provided with the charger carefully to avoid danger. Connect the red cable clip to the positive battery terminal and the black cable clip to the negative battery terminal. Use caution. Crossing the positive terminal with any grounded metal will cause a short circuit and lots of sparks – not a good scenario in a closed compartment where there might be residual gasoline or oil in the bilge.

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Using a portable battery charger is another option, but it can be dangerous if care isn’t taken.
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Hooking up jumper cables or a portable battery charger can create sparks and ignite explosive gases.

Livewell System

A livewell system lets a boater keep bait or fish alive on the boat. The outside water is drawn in via an electric pump and excess water overflows through an overflow tube. If that tube becomes clogged with debris, the system could be pumping water directly into the boat. Some systems have an additional pump to drain the well, and that will need to be checked, too. In fact, all hoses and clamps to and from the livewell system should be checked regularly and replaced or tightened if necessary. Excessive livewell operation without either charging the batteries, or running the boat to charge the batteries, could leave you with plenty of fish but no way to get them home.

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The livewell, if a boat is so equipped, usually runs off the boat’s main battery system.
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At least twice a year, inspect the batteries. Check the fluid level and clean the terminals if necessary. Distilled water is best to top up the fluid, but remember to not overfill them – leave a little space for heat expansion.
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Steering System

A boat’s steering system will either be a cable-driven mechanical system, or a hydraulic steering system. Get into the habit of checking the system for smooth and easy operation, and remember, if it gets a little harder each time, a boater may not notice. Consciously test and inspect the system, and maintain it to keep it running smoothly.

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On a mechanical steering system, lubricate the cables monthly, and check fittings for tightness.

Hydraulic Steering. It is best to have the system serviced by your dealer’s service center twice a year, or any time you notice steering becoming either spongy or erratic. There are refill kits available, but if you’re losing hydraulic fluid, it is best to have a trained service tech check it out.

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Hydraulic steering can be more difficult to maintain or repair by yourself and may require professional service.

Regular Maintenance and Service. Preferably twice a year, but at least once a year at the beginning of the boating season the engine and systems will need a checkup and some routine maintenance. Follow the maintenance schedule that came in the owner’s manual for items such as oil change and filter, fuel filter, spark plugs, impeller, lower-unit oil, and overall lubrication. Failure to maintain the engine may cause a malfunction far from the dock. Improper maintenance can also void the warranty, so don’t overlook this important aspect of boat ownership.

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Also, check the throttle and shift lever for smoothness, and lubricate the cable at least twice a year.
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Look over the fuel system regularly, making sure all connectors are tight.
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There should be no smell of gasoline in the tank area when the vent is closed. Hoses that are cracked or flaking must be replaced.
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Get familiar with the functions of the boat’s electronics, particularly when relying on them for charting and navigation (though it’s wise to always carry a paper chart and have a compass on board). Combo units with GPS charting, sonar, and radar can be pretty complicated.
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To avoid problems with your boat and maintain the warranty, have engines and systems serviced by a dealer.

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