Right about the time the first 75-degree day of the spring season hits, boat owners get an itch that’s awfully difficult to scratch. And the rash that causes it—the urge to get out on our boats—can be so powerful as to render a usually cautious and thoughtful boat owner into a forgetful, haphazard one.
While we certainly “get” that anxious urgency to get your pride and joy out on the water for the first boating adventure of the season, it’s not a bad idea to take a slow, deep breath first. There, feel better? Good.
Now that you’re in a calm and Zen-like state, read on to find out about some common boat problems that can conspire to ruin that joyous first run of the season… and how to prevent them.
Dang, the Drain Plug
I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, this is common sense. No one forgets to put in the drain plug.” Yet on the opening day of striped bass season every year at my local Chesapeake Bay launch ramp, dozens—yes, dozens—of trailerable boats nearly sink because owners forget to reinstall the transom drain plug after it’s been out all winter. It’s so common, in fact, that the local marine police often patrol the ramp area reminding folks to check their plugs before launching.
Ahhh… The boat is in the water; it’s loaded up with gear, ice, and your favorite beverages; and everyone’s aboard. Maybe you’ve even put together a playlist on your iPod for the occasion. As you turn the key to fire up the engine, the glorious roar of horsepower is what you expect hear. But instead... silence. Yup, you guessed it; your battery is dead.
You can avoid this dockside drama by checking all of your batteries—house and starting banks—with an onboard or portable meter, well before your first run. If you’re in the habit of leaving your batteries unattended all winter without at least a trickle charge, consider making a change when winter layup time comes around at the end of the season by removing the batteries from your boat and placing them on an appropriate float charge for the cold winter months. To get more ideas on how to keep the juice flowing, watch our Basic Boat Battery Maintenance video.
No doubt you’ve heard of the corn-based gasoline additive ethanol, which is blended into virtually every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States. You can certainly find filling stations and fuel docks that sell non-ethanol gas and use it in your boat, but for the majority of us, it’s something we just have to deal with.
Ethanol loves water. So much so, in fact, that it will absorb it to the point of saturation before separating your fuel into a goopy, watery mess. That’s when it makes a disaster of either your fuel tank, fuel lines, fuel system—or all three. Countless boat owners learn this painful chemistry lesson at the beginning of each season, and not only can it ruin your first run, it can also be a wildly expensive problem to fix.
The best way to avoid this situation is to always add a good-quality fuel stabilizer, every time you fuel up and especially at winter layup time. Additionally, engines should be run dry of fuel at winterization time. If you’re confused about the winterization process for your engine or fuel system and you have a modern outboard, watch our How to Winterize a Four Stroke Outboard Engine video.
Rocket’s Red Glare
If you’ve made it far enough away from the launch ramp or slip to get boarded by the marine police, well… congratulations? Getting boarded may not be fun, but an expensive citation for expired or missing safety gear is a sure-fire way to lose that first run, feel-good boating mellow.
Before you head out, give your safety gear a thorough once-over. Make sure your flares haven’t expired over the winter, your fire extinguishers are fully charged, there’s an emergency sound-making device aboard, and there are a sufficient number of personal flotation devices (PFDs) for each person aboard, plus a throwable PFD. If you’re unsure of what you need to have aboard, visit the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Virtual Safety Check website.
Ooh That Smell
No, we’re not talking about the Lynyryd Skynyrd song, we’re talking about the plethora of smells that can accumulate in your boat over the winter if you don’t sort things out at winterization time. You remembered to pump and rinse your holding tank last fall, didn’t you?
Well, if you didn’t, the resulting funk can certainly make for a malodorous and unpleasant first run. Other areas to sort at winterization time—or before you head out for the first time in the spring—include portable MSD tanks, fish boxes, coolers, dirty bilges, mildewy lockers and stowage areas, or anywhere else funky odors can develop.
And now (after another slow, deep breath)... enjoy your first run of the season.