Giving the boat trailer a good pre-launch inspection helps avoid untimely breakdowns on the way to the hospital—or worse, on the way to the launch ramp for a day of fishing!
As I do each season at about this time, when I prepare to launch my boat to begin my fifth decade of boating on the Great Lakes, I recall situations experienced first-hand or witnessed personally that have taught me to be a better boater. They come to mind each spring following several months since I last launched my boat, and I fear overlooking details like removing transom straps and installing drain plugs; tasks that become second nature later in the season but rear their ugly heads when I take time away from any activity and allow my skills to rust like the winch I forgot to oil last autumn.
As with other aspects of my life, I have found that some of the most memorable boating lessons learned followed failed experiences, rather than successful endeavors. Here are some of my favorites:
- I watched a guy in a pick-up truck launch his boat, tie it off at the courtesy dock and then go back to the trailer and soak his carpeted trailer bunks with Palmolive dish soap. I assumed he was lubing them up to make the loading/unloading process a little slipperier, which I thought was a slick trick (pun intended). I went fishing and when I returned a few hours later, loaded my boat on its trailer and was leaving the launch ramp parking lot there was a traffic jam behind that same truck, which was now cradling the boat in its bed. Seems the guy loaded the boat without incident, thanks to the super-slick bunks, but on his way out with it in tow came to a sudden stop and the boat, tethered to the trailer with only the winch strap, didn’t. Stop, that is. At least until it had ridden up and over the winch post and into the bed of the truck.
- On two separate occasions I’ve seen what happens when a winch strap is removed from the bow eye of a boat being backed down a launch ramp atop a trailer fitted with rollers. The impact of the visual is not nearly as dramatic as the sound of the impact and the remarks that follow. After suffering a premature launch, I watched one driver actually get out of his SUV and chase a bystander who was laughing so hard he almost couldn’t out-run the irate boater—hopeful despite being half his age.
- Also on two occasions, once in my own boat and once while conducting a boat test in the presence of professional boat-writer peers, a damp deck reminded me of the purpose of a transom drain plug.
- I laugh so hard I scare the dog every time America’s Funniest Video’s plays the segment on boat-boarding mishaps sent in by viewers. Their “ladder incidents” reel rates a close second on the dog-disturbing scale.
- I have qualified for the AFV’s boat boarding clip three times that I can recall, once when dropping over the transom into 6 feet of water that I thought was (much) less than half that and completely disappearing, and the other two when playing human dock line. Luckily, there wasn’t a camera in sight to document any of those teachable moments.
- I watched a guy back his trailered boat down a launch ramp and attempt to keep his feet dry by walking tightrope-style out on his trailer’s frame to push his craft off the aft set of bunks. I can still hear his high-pitched remark when he slipped, a foot on either side of the marine-grade aluminum channel post, and came down hard. And I don’t think it was ruined shoes he was yelling about.
- After removing my shoes while loading my boat on a rather steep ramp, I surfed barefoot down ten feet of slick, algae-covered concrete toward the water. Unfortunately, I was 20 feet from the water when I initiated the slide and I covered the final stretch sitting on my, uh, wallet. The ramp was adjacent to the patio of a busy waterfront restaurant and I headlined that evening’s entertainment.
- I recently watched two guys board a rented canoe, face each other from their seats at each end, and begin paddling toward each other.
- While trolling, I watched a couple riding a personal watercraft zip by so close to my transom that they passed between me and where my lines entered the water, going under the taut monofilament held just high enough by the rods to keep from decapitating them both, which my un-named fishing partner said would have served them right.
- I’ve have been in the act of calling for a sea tow aboard a “stalled” boat while on a boat test before noticing that the automatic kill switch key I had overlooked was attached to my dialing hand.
- I watched a guy slam his car door so hard it shattered the driver’s side glass and then walk off muttering expletives, leaving his rig in full jackknife position at the base of a launch ramp.
- I watched a low pedestrian bridge re move a high radar bridge from a spanking-new powerboat proceeding under the span at planing speed. When I went to his aid the guy said that he had cleared it “with room to spare” when he passed under the span earlier in the day. At idle speed.
These are but a few of the instances I find myself calling to mind about this time each season to remind me to stop and think before doing something that may label me an April Fool. If you have any similar “teachable moments” to share with Great Lakes Angler readers, please drop us a line!
A Boater’s Checklist
One way I reduce the number of blunders in my boating—as well as my personal—life is by making a checklist of tasks that must be accomplished in order for things to go smoothly. For trailering, launching and loading a boat, I’ve used the same basic boating checklist for years. I keep a master copy on my computer, which I can add to or otherwise customize and then print out and have on hand when I go on a boat test, embark on a personal day on the water or leave for a boating vacation. The list includes everything from “test turn signals” to “install drain plug” and all the major steps in-between. A good pre-season checklist to reference while developing your own personalized one is offered by Boat U.S. at boatus.com
Failure to insert the bilge drain plug is one of the most common mistakes boaters make early each season.
To help boaters have a trouble-free boating season, Boat U.S., the nation’s largest recreational boating association, has a spring commissioning checklist for the nation’s 13 million boat owners. Whether you have an inboard or outboard boat, following this checklist is an easy way to get ready for the Great Lakes boating season.
BEFORE YOU LAUNCH:
- Inspect and lubricate seacocks Hoses and hose clamps should be inspected and replaced as necessary.
- Replace deteriorated zincs.
- Inspect prop(s) for dings, pitting and distortion. Make sure cotter pins are secure. Grip the prop and try moving the shaft - if it’s loose, the cutlass bearing may need to be replaced.
- Check to make sure the rudderstock hasn’t been bent.
- Inspect the hull for blisters, distortions and stress cracks.
- Make sure your engine intake sea strainer is free of corrosion and properly secured.
- Check the engine shaft and rudder stuffing boxes for looseness. After the boat is launched, be sure to check these as well as through-hulls for leaks.
- Use a hose to check for deck leaks at ports and hatches. Renew caulk or gaskets as necessary.
- If equipped, ensure that the stern drain plug is installed.
This boater was more than a little rusty with the launch process after a long offseason. A pre-launch checklist might have helped, but we kinda’ doubt it.
OUTDRIVES AND OUTBOARD ENGINES:
- Inspect rubber outdrive bellows for cracked, dried and/or deteriorated spots (look especially in the folds), and replace if suspect.
- Check power steering and power trim oil levels. Replace worn-out zincs.
- Inspect outer jacket of control cables. Cracks or swelling indicate cor-rosion and mean that the cable has to be replaced.
- Inspect fuel lines, including fill and vent hoses, for softness, brittleness or cracking. Check all joints for leaks and make sure all lines are well supported with non-combustible clips or straps with smooth edges.
ENGINES AND FUEL SYSTEMS:
- Inspect fuel tanks, fuel pumps and filters for leaks. Clamps should be snug and free of rust. Clean fuel filters. Owners of boats with fiberglass fuel tanks should be aware that gasoline with ethanol can corrode tanks and damage engines. Look for black “goo” under the carburetor.
- Inspect cooling hoses and fittings for stiffness, rot, leaks and/or cracking. Make sure they fit snugly and are double-clamped.
- Every few years, remove and inspect exhaust manifold for corrosion.
- Clean and tighten electrical con nections, especially both ends of battery cables. Wire-brush battery terminals and fill cells with distilled water (if applicable).
- Inspect bilge blower hose for leaks.
Forgetting to secure a trailered boat with winch and transom straps can result in epic fails—at the launch ramp and beyond. Peace!
- Inspect tire treads and sidewalls for cracks or lack of tread and replace as necessary. Check air pressure. Don’t forget the spare!
- Inspect bearings and repack as necessary.
- Test tail and back-up lights. Test winch to make sure it’s working properly.
- Inspect trailer frame for rust. Sand and paint to prevent further deterioration.
- Check expiration dates on flares and fire extinguishers.
- Check stove and remote tanks for loose fittings and leaking hoses.
- Inspect bilge pump and float switch to make sure it’s working properly.
- Inspect dock and anchor lines for chafing.
- Update or replace old charts, waterway guides.
- Check shore power cable connections for burns, which indicates the cable and/or the shore power inlet needs to be replaced.
- Make sure your boating license and/or registration is up to date. Don’t forget your trailer tags.
- Review your boat insurance policy and update coverage if needed. Be sure you have fuel spill insurance coverage.
- Make sure you have a properly sized and wearable life jackets in good condition for each passenger, including kids and pets.
- Test smoke, carbon monoxide and bilge alarms.
- Be sure to get a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons. Find out how at http://www.safetyseal.net.