While the focus on staying safe at sea is the constant reminder to wear a lifejacket, there are many preparations for both you and your vessel to ensure an enjoyable and safe boating season.
Vessel Checks. A safe journey begins with a well-maintained boat. Before heading out for the season, go on a shake-down cruise close to home and test all of your boat systems. A thorough visual check of the engine room and other equipment may save you from breakdowns and time spent in the yard during the prime boating season. A few examples on a very long maintenance list include the following:
- Are thru-hull valves free of leaks and corrosion?
- Is the sea strainer clean and functional? Does the high-water bilge alarm work?
- Have you checked the stuffing box? Does it need repacking?
- Have you checked batteries for proper voltage and age?
- Is the davit system and anchor system in good working order? Don’t forget to check the dinghy.
- Is the hydraulic steering operating properly? Any wear or leaks?
- Have you gone through the engine room to check the antifreeze level, last heat exchanger service, and engine oil change date?
- Have you checked belts for proper tension? Checked hoses and clamps?
- What about the integrity of the propane system?
- What about the drive plate between your engine and marine gearbox? Is it making noise?
- Has your fuel tank been cleaned within the last 10 years?
Be Prepared. Knowing where to find marine weather reports and how to interpret weather for your planned cruising area is of vital importance for a safe, comfortable trip at sea. The Waggoner Cruising Guide has a section on weather in the Compendium, Chapter 1; and there are many courses available that focus on weather for boaters. Know how to use the VHF Radio for emergency calls to the Coast Guard. Instruct your crew on emergency procedures and the location of emergency supplies and equipment.
Make a preliminary itinerary and confirm that you have sufficient fuel for your trip, and have included planned fuel stops. Don’t forget to leave a float plan with family or friends back home and establish a means of communication.
Be sure to carry the required number and type of fire extinguishers and check expiration dates. Have necessary tools and spare parts aboard your vessel for emergency repairs. Be Coast Guard compliant with the correct type and number of emergency flares, or the new SOS Distress Light and SOS-day flags.
- Cold water can severely impact your ability to swim or just stay afloat; be sure to wear your lifejacket! Over 80 percent of those who have drowned were not wearing a lifejacket.
- Be sure to wear an engine cut-off device when operating the dinghy. It is a U.S. Federal Law.
- Keep a sharp lookout for logs and debris in the water. Watch out for other boaters who may be distracted or unfamiliar with the rules of the road – the stand-on/give-way vessel rules. One-quarter of accidents are caused by inattention.
- Travel at safe speeds and be aware of designated slow speed zones (see Waggoner for a two-page list of no wake, speed limit zones).
- Never drink alcohol while operating a vessel; drugs and prescription drugs can also affect your motor skills and mental awareness.
- Be aware of the No Boat exclusion zones in the San Juan Islands and Gulf Islands.
Vessel Check List: Compliments of Mike Beemer