Independence Day is rapidly approaching and quite often it marks the first time on the water for the year for many boaters. With the weather being warmer, the urge to get out on the water to do a little fishing, skiing or tubing can be overwhelming. Just make sure your boat is ready to go before you head to the lake.
Now is the time to get your pre-launch preparations done. After sitting all winter, there are a few things you should check out on your boat before using it for the first time of the season. It is far better to check things out and make sure you are ready to go in your driveway than on the boat ramp while holding up other boaters who want to get on the water, too.
With every boat I’ve ever owned, batteries were the first thing I checked when I prepped my boat for the water. To confirm this, I asked an expert, Dave Bargell of Young’s Marine.
“Batteries are a good thing to check first,” Bargell said. “If your battery isn’t in good shape, your motor can’t start, navigation lights, trolling motors, aerators and marine electronics won’t work either. Don’t waste an entire day searching out fuses or checking wiring when it may only be the battery that needs charging.”
Many boaters attempt to crank up the motor for the first time and just hear “clicking noises” when they hit the starter. This is a relatively common indication that the battery has lost its charge over the winter. You also need to make sure that all terminal connections are tight and clean while you are performing your routine checks.
I learned the hard way that I needed to check my fuel lines prior to my first time on the water a few years back. I should have inspected them for cracks or breaks. Every connection or stress point is a potential problem. Even a small crack can let air into the line and make your engine run rough or sluggish.
You should also inspect all cables and linkages that control steering. A steering cable left untouched for several months may become rusted or simply “stuck” in place. I once towed an individual back to the boat ramp because he discovered his steering only turning a few degrees and he could not maneuver to get back to shore.
If you cannot freely turn your steering wheel fully from one stop to another, either disassemble the control cable ends and correct the problem or take it to a marine shop, like Young’s Marine, to get it checked out.
Examine all your lights. Bow lights and stern light must be in working order to operate in low light conditions. A common problem for removable stern lights are the contacts becoming corroded over the winter months. Before changing bulbs, make sure all contact surfaces are clean and fit snugly together. Here’s a tip: A wire brush for cleaning .22 barrels works great for cleaning these connectors.
If you have a trailer, make sure all your running lights are in working order. Wheel bearings also need to be inspected. Correct any problems before rolling out of the driveway, rather than late at night along some lonely stretch of highway or along the edge of the interstate.
Another easily overlooked item: Don’t forget to check your trailer tires. Tires can lose a lot of pressure over the winter. Make sure you check them and that they are inflated to the correct pressure. An under-inflated tire can get hot and result in a blowout.
Moisture can be a problem. Condensation can develop in the cylinders over the winter, making it hard to start. I remove the spark plugs and check their condition. I like to shoot a little WD-40 into each cylinder and then turn the motor over by hand to prepare the engine for running. Did you know that WD in WD-40 stands for water displacement? It will drive out any moisture and provide a bit of lubrication to the cylinder walls before you crank it up.
Moisture can also cause problems in your fuel system. If you left fuel in your tanks during the winter, check to see whether any water has made its way into it. Remember that gasoline is lighter than water, so any water will be in the bottom of the tank. If you are not sure if any water is present, shake the tank. If you do have water in the tank, the fuel will look cloudy after being shaken.
Check your lower unit for proper gear oil level. Make sure that water has not found its way into this area over the winter. A few seconds of preventative maintenance here can save you a lot of trouble and large sums of money.
Once you have charged the battery, check all the electrical connections and check that you have good fuel — it is time to start the motor. Never run a liquid cooled motor without some method of getting water to the lower unit. A garden hose and a set of engine muffs lets you safely run your motor for initial startup. Be certain that water is getting into the lower unit and into the cooling system. There should be a small stream of water coming out of the motor after running for a few seconds. If you don’t see this, something is plugged up! Shut things down and have your motor checked by a certified marine mechanic.
One more thing: Find all your life jackets and check their condition. More than one boater has pulled a PFD from their storage spot to find that small critters made it their home during the winter. You are required to have a life jacket either on or readily available for each person on board. Make sure that your Class IV flotation device is still on board and in good condition. Most often shaped like a seat cushion, this item is required equipment in addition to the life jackets you already have on board.
Have a safe and great boating season.
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